ENTERPRISE — A pair of public hearings before the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, May 3, involved land-use issues, and the commissioners were able to make short work of some of them.
But a conversation about how to define bed-and-breakfasts on farmland quickly expanded to a broader discussion on affordable housing in the county, and the commissioners ended up returning that question to the Planning Commission.
In that particular hearing, the commissioners worked to clear up the definitions of two types of accessory dwellings that can be placed on farmland — bunkhouses and structures that could be used for a bed-and-breakfast.
According to a staff report submitted by the Planning Commission, these accessory dwellings can provide sleeping quarters but do not have kitchens and may not be used as a residence or rental unit. Their use is considered incidental to the primary structure on the same plot of land and subordinate to it.
Bunkhouses are usually rough, simple buildings meant to provide temporary sleeping quarters but do not have kitchens; meals are taken elsewhere. They are limited to 500 square feet, are neither short- nor long-term rentals and cannot be used as a bed-and-breakfast.
The Planning Commission and the county Commission had no difficulty with the definition of a bunkhouse and approved it.
Bed-and-breakfastDefining bed-and-breakfasts, however, proved to be a tougher case.
And when it came to defining and saying where a bed-and-breakfast could be located, the Planning Commission was split nearly in half, leaving the county commissioners equally unable to decide how to regulate B&Bs.
The Planning Commission’s recommendation was to remove a portion of the ordinance defining a B&B as within a structure appropriate for its zone that may be a second dwelling, a portion of a barn or a bunkhouse that is approved as living quarters. The recommendation also would have removed language describing incidental use (taking up 5% of days the B&B is available for rent) that may involve other overnight accommodations. Planning Director Franz Goebel said this last portion left planners confused.
The deleted portions would be replaced with language stating that up to three bedrooms would be available for rent for fewer than 30 days and that the B&B’s operator must reside in the house while guests are present. Breakfast — as defined by the operator — is to be provided.
The B&Bs are defined as home-based occupations and as such, are allowed in all zones where home-based occupations are allowed. They require a conditional-use permit and must meet other criteria.
Goebel said owners of B&Bs may not always strictly comply with regulations.
“We are concerned that they could become de-facto short-term rentals,” he said.
The definitions weren’t the only things dividing the Planning Commission. The B&B question also ties into the future of land use in the county.
When Commission Chairman John Hillock opened the hearing to public comment, some Planning Commission members agreed with him that the definitions are complicated and so is the issue when tied to the larger one the county faces of providing affordable housing.
“When I look at this, like John says, it is so complex,” said Kathy Siebe of Enterprise. “What we’re looking at is … housing for the county, which is a very complicated situation.”
She said B&Bs can help landowners pay for their land. But some of the requirements of the ordinance go beyond what many people are comfortable with.
“With the B&B part of it, (landowners) need the extra income because mortgages are so high,” Siebe said. “I think they should be permitted to have a B&B because they need that extra income. I think it should be permitted, I think it should be safe. The purpose, I think, of the law is so there is someone there observing the people who are there … so as long as somebody is there observing them so it doesn’t get out of hand.”
“In general, I think it’s time to make those changes when there’s so much going on in Enterprise and the county with Wallowa Resources trying to understand the housing crisis. I think permit it, safe, clean and leave it so much better than it was.”
Ramona Phillips of Joseph, a member of the Planning Commission, said she objects to the complexities of the ordinance and the lack of enforcement of it.
“I wouldn’t mind the frustration, except for the lack of enforcement,” she said. “My husband and I lived in a little 900-square-foot farmhouse for 26 years with four kids on 80 acres of exclusive farm use” zoning.
They later bought a manufactured home and felt forced to tear down their older home.
“My feeling is, why weren’t we allowed to keep it?” she asked. “Other people are doing it. We could’ve left that house there and rented it out for a long-term rental, but we’re abiding by the rules where other people are not abiding by the rules.”
Georgene Thompson of the Flora/Troy area, another member of the Planning Commission, said she’s concerned that owners of grazing or timberland will be forced to sell if not given a way to afford their land.
“I don’t want to see the farmers lose their land if we can provide them with some alternative. We should try to create an establishment that’s going to help the farmers or we’re going to lose them,” she said. “It’s happening all over the country. Foreign countries are buying (the land) up.”
Thompson said she was told how several years ago a Singapore-owned company bought hundreds of thousands of acres of Oregon timberland.
“Will we be in control of our food then?” she wondered.
The commissioners directed the Planning Commission to come up with acceptable definitions on B&Bs and bring those definitions back.
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