Planners clear up gray areas

Written by Katy Nesbitt, The Observer June 06, 2012 01:39 pm

The Wallowa County Planning Department hopes to clear up some gray areas around the definition of structures and short-term rentals.

Three amendments to the county’s land use plan were presented Monday to the Board of Commissioners.

The Planning Commission approved the amendments last year, but the Board of Commissioners’ approval is needed to set them into action.

The definition of a structure became clearer with the amendment that states a structure is a temporary enclosure, not attached to the ground (i.e., no foundation), doesn’t appear on the tax rolls, is exempt from set-backs and design constraints.

Planning Director Harold Black said, “For instance, a tarp on a woodpile is not a structure.”

The definition of a bunkhouse was also clarified. It is a small, rough building used as temporary sleeping quarters.

The amendment also says that neighbors will be notified in advance of a plan to build a bunkhouse, which should alleviate concerns before construction.

Black said by notifying neighbors up front, lawyers involved in the process would be aware that the process was in alignment with state law and proper noticing had been done.

Neighbors’ concerns

An amendment to the land use plan describing what a short-term rental is should also reduce concerns by neighbors. Black said now the county reviews all short-term rentals every two years; half one year and half the next.

He said the commission then decided to reduce the work of the planning department by keeping an eye on those short-term rentals receiving complaints. Once a complaint is filed, the owner will be notified and a 12-month clock will start to review the permit and make sure it is in conformance.

“This has the backing of a majority of the property managers,” said Black.

Previously it took three citations from the sheriff’s office to start a permit review and Black said the sheriff is not interested in managing complaints.

It will create a little more work for the planning department, but should smooth out the process.

If a crime is committed, like trespassing or disorderly conduct, the sheriff’s office would still be involved, but not to enforce the land use plan, said Black.

Traffic and parking problems are regular issues at Wallowa Lake with visitors parking vehicles and trailers on private property. Tourists walking across lawns and even having picnics and camping have caused concern.

“Private property rights need to be respected,” said Black.

Mike Hayward, Board of Commissioners chairman, said the amendments won’t necessarily clear up the controversies, but should help.

“Most property managers are responsible and do a good job. These tools will be helpful,” said Hayward.

The amendments will be presented to the board again at the next commissioner meeting, June 18, and put to a vote.