- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) - Drawing an unusually sharp line, the Astoria City Council rejected a zoning change that would have allowed a new vacation rental at 16th Street and Franklin Avenue.

Clatsop Community College asked to amend the land use and zoning map to help sell the Josie Peper Building to a prospective buyer who wanted to use the property as a second home and vacation rental. The rezoning from high-density residential to general commercial would have also applied to the college’s Performing Arts Center next door.

Some neighbors objected to the change, arguing a vacation rental would be out of character for the historic Shively-McClure neighborhood, and city councilors late Tuesday seized on the opportunity to make a larger point about the city’s housing shortage.

With Astoria a tourist draw, and websites such as Airbnb helping to drive the vacation rental market, many worry that more of the city’s already lean housing stock will cater to tourists and second-home buyers.

A draft affordable housing study prepared by city planners recommends that the city continue to discourage vacation rentals that are not owner occupied in residential neighborhoods.

“We are really lucky in Astoria to have our neighborhoods protected from vacation rentals,” said City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill, who has been an advocate for workforce housing. “All over Oregon - Bend and Yachats, Cannon Beach - there are examples of nightmare scenarios where vacation rentals are destroying the character of those communities.”

Vacation rentals, she said, also make “it easier for people to own second homes there. And less affordable for the people who live and work in those cities.”

Mayor Arline LaMear said, given the city’s deficit of residential property, that “it doesn’t make any sense to me to change this zone to commercial.”

Built as a single-family home in 1923, the Josie Peper Building has been used as a day care center, offices and a law firm. The historic building is named for a former student who pressed the college for the day care center.

City planning staff found that converting the Josie Peper Building into a second home and vacation rental would not be any more intensive than the previous uses, including the law firm, which was improper for a residential zone. Planning staff determined that a zoning change to commercial might provide a market-driven incentive to invest and preserve a property the college has deemed surplus.

The Planning Commission voted 4-1 in July to recommend approval of the zoning change.

JoAnn Zahn, the college’s vice president of finance and operations, told the City Council Tuesday night that the college had accepted a purchase offer for the Josie Peper Building in June contingent on the rezoning.

Donna Quinn, who lives on Franklin Avenue, is the director of sales and marketing at the Cannery Pier Hotel. She had submitted a petition to the Planning Commission from neighbors who opposed the zoning change.

Quinn framed the decision for the City Council as about protecting historic neighborhoods and not becoming an “absentee owner, vacation rental town.”

She said the zoning change would be “a dangerous step in the wrong direction for Astoria.”

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Information from: The Daily Astorian, https://www.dailyastorian.com

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