Lincoln City is struggling to find a compromise between its vacation rental property owners and its year-round residents.
"This has gone on for three years. That's the frustrating part of it," said Gene Scrutton, who owns eight rental homes and manages 22 others. "It's been three years we've been in limbo not knowing if we could keep our business."
Tourism is a mainstay industry for the coastal town of about 8,000 people. There are about 500 vacation rental homes sprinkled throughout the residential zones, and the city has started to wonder whether it's time to regulate their growth.
The issues at the center of the controversy are where should vacation properties be located, should there be limits on how many days they can be rented and what are reasonable safety requirements for rental properties.
One idea proposed in 2013 was to create yes and no zones within residential areas. A yes zone would allow unlimited short-term rentals, and a no zone would restrict the number of short-term rental days. The proposal would have grandfathered in existing rental properties in the no zones with the caveat that upon sale or death of the current owner, the new owners would have to comply with the rental restrictions.
"I'm very ambivalent on that idea," Councilor Chester Noreikis said. "I have yet to come up with an alternative to the yes, no idea."
That proposal also raised questions about whether the city could be sued by home owners in the no zone for devaluing their properties.
Noreikis wants to impose regulations because the price of rental homes have made it difficult for Lincoln City residents to buy property in their own city.
"Right now, there is very little affordable housing in the city," Noreikis said.
The median household income in Lincoln City rose by about 10 percent between 2000 and 2011 while the median house price rose by about 45 percent during that time period, according to CityData.com.
Severely restricting the rental homes also could harm the tourism industry and jeopardize the jobs of city residents.
"I'm frustrated about it because it's our sole employment," said Sandy Hecht, who cleans rental homes for a living. "I'm done with my job by the time my kids are getting out of school so I can be there with them ... I know four other moms that clean beach rentals that depend on this income too."
City Manager David Hawker said the city is searching for a solution that creates the smallest impact existing rental homes.
"There's a certain amount of hysteria around this effort," Hawker said. "We are not attacking older (vacation rental dwellings). The question is for new (rental homes): Where are we going to allow them? Are we going to allow them in every residential neighborhood with unlimited use?"
Scrutton's not sure he believes that.
He's spent the last 23 years renovating older beach homes and renting them. During that time, A1 Beach Rentals has become his full-time business. Scrutton's worried that proposed safety regulations could be written in a way that makes keeping his older homes as rental properties impossible.
He's also worried about ideas floated about limiting the number of people would could occupy a rental at one time because some owners cater specifically to church groups and other organizations for retreats.
"For 30 years, no one has ever said anything like that. No one has ever said you couldn't own multiple (homes); no one has ever limited how many days you could rent," Scrutton said. "It's just really a scary situation for a lot of people."