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June 1: Vacation rental caps go into effect and moratorium ends

San Juan County posted the final signed version of Ordinance No. 05-2022 on the county's website on May 23, 2022. The ordinance is in effect and the current moratorium ends as of June 1, 2022.

The council included 15 findings of fact. The text is posted below. 

The county will continue to process complete vacation rental permit applications - that were allowed under the moratorium - until June 1, 2022.

The caps adopted are 337 for San Juan Island, 211 for Orcas Island, 135 Lopez Island, combined 10 for outer islands. Shaw and Waldron islands do not allow any. 

The caps were tailored to each of the three main islands by their respective council members.

Concerns on Orcas Island because of the abundance of private roads and small water systems was a major factor in Council member Cindy Wolf's decision to limit the number of vacation rental permits to 211. The community had been very active in research, drafting proposals, discussing options, gathering signatures for the past three years. 

The number, 211, equals the number of compliant vacation rental permits that exist as of May 6, 2022. 

On San Juan Island, the pattern of vacation rentals skewed more to the shorelines as opposed to Orcas where they were spread throughout the residential neighborhoods. Council member Christine Minney noted there weren't as many objections to vacation rentals as there were on Orcas Island. Many people expected her to choose a bigger number and were surprised when she picked 337 as the cap. That's the number of currently permitted vacation rentals as of May 6, 2022.

Council member Jamie Stephens said property owners have a variety of reasons for having vacation rentals and wanted to leave room in the cap for more permits. He chose 135 as the number for Lopez Island.


Ordinance establishing a cap on permits for vacation rental of residences or accessory dwelling units (ADUs); Amending San Juan County Code (SJCC) 18.40.275 and Ordinance 2-2018.


A. In 1998, the County Council adopted Ordinance 2-1998, establishing performance standards for vacation (short-term) rentals of residences and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in San Juan County Code (SJCC) 18.40.270.

B. SJCC 18.40.270 was amended three times by Ordinances 145-1998, 21-2002, and 7-2006.

C. In 2018, the San Juan County Council adopted Ordinance 2-2018, repealing SJCC 18.40.270 and establishing SJCC 18.40.275, which regulates vacation rental of residences and ADUs.

D. SJCC 18.40.275 does not specifically regulate the number of vacation rental permits.

E. The County Council identified a need to adopt specific regulations to limit the number of vacation rental permits allowed countywide and on a per-island basis.

F. The County Council met to develop legislative options for regulations related to the vacation rental moratorium on February 23, 2021; March 9, 2021; March 30, 2021; April 20, 2021 and May 12, 2021.

G. At their May 12, 2021 meeting, the County Council provided guidance to the staff and the Planning Commission for development additional vacation rental regulations including an overall cap on the number of permits issued, caps on numbers of permits issued by island, measures to address emergency management, impacts to neighborhoods and impacts to community roads and water systems.

H. The County Council specifically desires to:

1. Establish a Countywide cap for vacation rentals in the Unified Development Code 38 (UDC), Title 18 SJCC.

2. Establish a per-island cap for vacation rentals in the UDC, Title 18 SJCC.

I. County staff briefed the Planning Commission about the County Council direction and draft proposal on July 16, August 20, and September 17, 2021.

J. County staff completed the environmental and nonproject action checklist for the project in compliance with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and determined that the proposal would be unlikely to create significant adverse environmental impacts.

K. County staff issued a Determination of Non-significance (DNS) on September 29, 2021 and published it in the Journal of the San Juan Islands and The Island’s Sounder. County staff transmitted the environmental checklist and DNS to federal, state, and local agencies in accordance with SJCC 18.80.050 and WAC 197-11-340.

L. The Washington State Department of Ecology published notice of the SEPA determination on their SEPA Register under No. 202105252.

M. County staff submitted a sixty-day notice regarding the potential adoption of amendments to the County’s development regulations to the Washington State Department of Commerce (Commerce) on September 28, 2021 in compliance with RCW 36.70A.106.

N. Commerce acknowledged receipt of the sixty-day notice and identified it as Submittal ID 18 No. 2021-S-3188 on September 28, 2021.

O. An October 15, 2021 Planning Commission public hearing was advertised in the Journal of the San Juan Islands and The Islands’ Sounder on September 29, 2021.

P. The Planning Commission held a duly advertised public hearing on October 15, 2021, deliberated and recommended that the County Council should adopt the ordinance with modifications.

Q. The Planning Commission did not issue findings at the October 15, 2021 public hearing.

R. Per SJCC 2.20.070 Role and function of the planning commission, the Planning Commission must include findings when making a recommendation at a public hearing.

S. The Planning Commission held a duly advertised public hearing on February 18, 2022, deliberated and agreed on findings to accompany the October 15, 2021, recommendation.

T. County staff briefed the County Council on the Planning Commission’s recommendation regarding the proposal on March 8, 2022.

U. The County Council was briefed on the draft ordinance on April 5, 2022.

V. A May 17, 2022, County Council public hearing was advertised in the Journal of the San Juan islands and the Island’s Sounder on May 4, 2022.

W. The County Council held a duly advertised public hearing on May 17, 2022 and received public testimony.

X. The County Council deliberated on the ordinance and made the following findings: 

1. San Juan County Code 18.04.275 regulates vacation rental of residences or accessory dwelling units (vacation rentals) but does not include regulations that address the impact of concentration of vacation rentals.

2. Vacation rentals consist of transient occupants who are not resident in the community long enough to establish relationships capable of building community. Concentration of vacation rentals negatively impacts the sense of neighborhood or community as transient occupants begin to outnumber residents.

3. Vacation rentals are the primary source of growth of transient accommodations in the County. Other sources of transient accommodations such as hotels, campgrounds and resorts are significantly limited by existing land use regulations.

4. Growth of transient accommodations is likely to result in additional tourist visits to the islands, which may result in negative impacts if not properly regulated.

5. It is appropriate to evaluate the impact of vacation rentals on the environment, neighborhoods, and the community.

6. It is necessary to explore local regulations of vacation rentals to ensure that the County adequately addresses potential land use compatibility issues and adverse impacts to rural character, natural resources and the public welfare. 

7. The Eastsound and Deer Harbor Plan Review Committees passed unanimous resolutions in favor of a county-wide moratorium on new VR permits in 2019.

8. Residents of San Juan County submitted a petition with 720 signatures and comments in 2021, calling for a cap on short-term vacation rental permits. Individuals from Lopez Island submitted a separate petition to the Planning Commission and the County Council to limit short-term vacation rental permits.

9. The islands of San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, Shaw and Waldron, as well as the remaining islands in San Juan County, each have their own unique history of residential development and community to be taken into account when considering the impact of short-term vacation rentals.

10. The County has received considerable testimony and public comments over the past three years from Orcas Island residents who have reported a negative impact of short-term vacation rentals on their community and neighborhood experience. Among other problems they cite are the island's fragile infrastructure, the stress on its private road network and small shared water systems.

11. The moratorium established in Resolution 03-2021, amended in Resolution 05- 2021 and extended by Resolutions 16-2021 and 33-2021 is no longer needed due to the adoption of new development regulations establishing a cap on permits for vacation rentals of residences or accessory dwelling units.

12. Because a large majority of signatures to the 720 person petition were associated with Orcas Island, which represents an unusually large number of signatures from Orcas Island for a single issue petition, and because the petition occurred after two years of public input, and because the petition asked for a cap at the number of active and compliant rentals as of July 31, 2021, therefore the number of vacation rental permits for Orcas Island has been set at 211.

13. Property owners rent their properties short term for a variety of reasons other than a pure business. These include their ability to afford a home or keeping a home in family ownership. There should be some space for an increase in permits on Lopez Island.

14. Utilizing the most recent numbers provided by County staff to more properly reflect the input of San Juan Island residents, the number of vacation rentals for San Juan Island has been set at 337, which is the number of currently permitted vacation rentals as of May 6, 2022.

15. There are currently 7 vacation rental permits in the outer islands of San Juan County. There are islands which currently do not have any vacation rentals and therefore Council wishes to allow for potential growth in those areas.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT ORDAINED by the County Council of San Juan County, State of Washington, as follows:

Section 1. SJCC 18.40.275 and Ordinance 2-2018 § are each amended to read as follows:

18.40.275 Vacation rental of residences or accessory dwelling unit (ADUs).

When vacation rental of a residence or accessory dwelling unit, as defined by SJCC 18.20.220, is allowed by this code, the following standards apply:

A. Outside of urban growth areas, one vacation rental is allowed on a property, either in the principal residence or an accessory dwelling. Detached accessory dwelling units permitted on or after June 29, 2007, are not allowed to be vacation rentals.

B. No more than two overnight guests per bedroom plus additional three overnight guests shall be accommodated at any one time. The number of bedrooms is determined by the approved building permit for the structure. A guest is a person over two years of age.

C. The vacation rental shall be operated according to rules of conduct approved by the County that prevent the following disturbances to area residents:

1. Trespassing;

2. Noise that violates Chapter 9.06 SJCC (Noise Ordinance);

3. Off-site parking issues;

4. Vehicle speeds of higher than the posted speed limit, or 20 miles per hour (mph) on private paved roads and 15 mph on private nonpaved roads; and

5. Outdoor burning that violates the requirements adopted pursuant to SJCC 14 15.04.070(F)(4)(c), including violations of a burn ban.

D. Solid waste must be removed from the vacation rental to an approved solid waste facility every two weeks. Solid waste shall be stored in completely enclosed and secured solid waste receptacles or stored completely indoors.

E. Guests shall be made aware of the importance of water conservation. Best practices conserve water shall be included in the rules of conduct.

F. One on-site parking space shall be provided for each bedroom within the vacation rental.

G. Meal service provided by the permit holder or their agents is not allowed.

H. All vacation rental permit holders are required to display the address of the residence so that it is clearly visible from the street or access road.

I. Vacation rental accommodations must meet all applicable local and state regulations, including those pertaining to business licenses and taxes such as Washington State sales, lodging and business and occupation taxes.

J. Vacation rental permits vested or approved after the effective date of the ordinance codified in this section shall expire two years after the date of approval unless the annual certificates of compliance meeting the requirements of subsection (K)(4) of this section are on file with the administrator.

K. All owners of property used for vacation rental shall comply with the following operational requirements:

1. Maintain an up-to-date property management plan on file with the administrator and property owners within 300 feet of the building within which the vacation rental is located. The property management plan must include the following:

a. Rules of conduct approved by the County;

b. Unified business identifier number, and the names and addresses of the property owner and agents authorized to act on the property owner’s behalf;

c. A designated local property representative who lives on the island where the vacation rental is located and will respond to complaints and emergencies; and

d. A valid telephone number where the local property representative can be reached 24 hours per day;

2. Prominently display in the rental the rules of conduct and a map clearly depicting the property boundaries of the vacation rental. The map shall indicate if there is an easement that provides access to the shoreline; if so, the boundaries of the easement shall be clearly defined; if there is no access, this shall be indicated together with a warning not to trespass;

3. Include the San Juan County permit number for the vacation rental in all advertisements and marketing materials such as brochures and websites;

4. Annually certify compliance with the conditions of permit approval and with the fire and life safety requirements of the International Fire Code (IFC) as identified by the department on forms specified by the administrator. The annual certification shall be prominently posted on site; and

5. Certify compliance with the conditions of permit approval within 90 days after the closing date of the sale of the property. Written certification must be submitted to the department on forms specified by the administrator.

L. The owners of vacation rental permits vested or approved prior to  March 13, 2018, are required to comply with all subsections of this section except subsections (B), (F) and (J) of this section in addition to the conditions of their permit.

M. A vacation rental shall not operate or be advertised without a vacation rental permit. Evidence of operation includes advertising, online calendars showing availability, guest testimony, online reviews, rental agreements or receipts.

N. The number of vacation rental permits countywide outside of the Master Planned Resort (MPR) designation shall not exceed:

1. On Orcas Island two hundred and eleven (211);

2. On San Juan Island three hundred and thirty seven (337);

3. On Lopez Island one hundred and thirty fiive (135);

4. On Shaw Island vacation rentals are prohibited by SJCC 16.45.180 (C);

5. On Waldron Island vacation rentals are prohibited by SJCC 16.36.060 (G); and

6. A maximum of ten (10) for all other islands not listed above combined. 

O. Vacation rental permits shall be issued by lottery procedures established by the administrator and approved by the County Council.

Section 2. Revocation of Moratorium 

The moratorium established in Resolution 03-2021, amended in Resolution 05-2021 and extended by Resolutions 16-2021 and 2021 is hereby revoked.

Section 3. Effective Date

This Ordinance is effective on the 10th working day after adoption.

Section 4. Codification.

Section 1 of this ordinance shall be codified.

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