A new Washington “sharing economy” committee has began ironing out goals to inform the public of new trends in online services.
Director of Community and Economic Development Sal Maniaci said the committee met last month and will meet again in January.
The “sharing economy” includes services like ride sharing, including Uber and Lyft, and vacation rentals by owners (VRBO). The goal of the committee is to educate the public on those services, likely through a workshop.
“Members of the committee have met and we talked about what we want to accomplish,” Maniaci said. “I am going to do some research and we will meet again after the first of the year.”
He noted that eight people have expressed interest in sitting on the committee, half of them attended the first meeting.
“We are going over topics to cover in the workshop, including evaluating property values around AirBnBs and short-term lodging, as well as the current demand for those services,” Maniaci said,
In October, the Washington Planning and Zoning Commission recommended Maniaci form the committee to explore short-term lodging following a contentious meeting in which several neighboring homeowners opposed requests for special use permits for short-term lodging in a residentially zoned district.
The committee also is exploring processes short-term lodging owners will use to insure the businesses, mechanisms by the city to approve the lodging and benefits to the community.
Maniaci said there could be standard conditions placed on short-term lodging permits that are more agreeable to neighboring property owners.
Maniaci noted that an insurance agent will be asked to speak at the community workshop, in part, so drivers know who is responsible if there is a crash while driving for the ride-share company.
In April, Gov. Eric Greitens signed a bill that set statewide regulations for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.
According to Maniaci, that piece of legislation means drivers for the companies are not required to get a city business license.
But there are other, less common, sharing economy businesses, he added, including Instacart, a grocery shopping service.
With Instacart, people can use a smartphone app to find personal shoppers to do their shopping for them. Maniaci explained that he is investigating to ensure there is no liability for app users.
Other sharing apps include dog groomers or masseuses who are booked through an app and then go into homes to provide services.
Some residents were contacted when city staff saw ads for room rentals during the solar eclipse on AirBnB, an online marketplace where people lease or rent lodging. All of the rentals are subject to the city’s 5 percent tourism tax and owners must purchase a merchants license.
Maniaci explained that the use of online rental marketplaces jumped during the total solar eclipse Aug. 21.
Short-term lodging is permitted in the Downtown zoning district and the C-3 Overlay District, which is along Fifth Street.
The cost of a special use permit is $150 and a merchants license is $25.