Everything on the table: Steamboat revisits short-term rental cap, other restrictions
In its first discussion on the topic, the new Steamboat Springs City Council decided Tuesday to revisit several ideas for regulating short-term rentals, including putting a cap on how many can exist in one area; extending the moratorium on applying for a permit to operate a vacation home rental; and revisiting data about how local ownership is measured.
City Council voted to place a moratorium on applying for a vacation home rental permit in July. Then in October, council members voted to nix certain streets around Steamboat Resort with low local density from the moratorium.
Since the moratorium was lifted in those areas, the city’s planning department has received 14 permit applications from homeowners on those streets, according to information received from a Colorado Open Records Act request. Of the 14 applications, the city has so far approved three. In comparison, the city typically receives about 20 in a year.
While council members were not concerned about new permits showing up in an area they felt likely would not be included in restrictions, all members agreed to extending the moratorium to avoid a “gold rush” of applications around the city while they explore caps and other policy.
“I certainly understand the need for data, but I also am a little bit concerned about waiting for the data to make any sort of decision,” said council member Gail Garey.
As for exploring a cap on short-term rentals, the previous council was not interested in the idea, but the four new council members — and the three returning — agreed to ask the Planning Commission to research the idea, which Planning Director Rebecca Bessey said commissioners had previously expressed an interest in.
“I’ve heard in comments during meetings that several planning commissioners are probably interested in that topic,” Bessey said.
While extending the moratorium may be inconvenient for people hoping to apply for a permit, council member Joella West said she believes the council should continue it as long as needed to assure it can make well-researched decisions.
“I would rather suffer the slings and arrows of people who really feel inconvenienced by having to wait for the moratorium and be certain that we, as a council, have all the information that we want and can look at it that way,” West said. “If it means extending the moratorium again, I’m very sorry, but that’s something that I would be happy with.”
Short-term rental property management company owners Sarah Bradford and Robin Craigen both urged the new council to slow down and consider more data before making a decision, such as enforcing a cap.
“A second home that is rented responsibly and doesn’t negatively impact its neighbors is better than a dark home sitting empty,” said Craigen, the founder and CEO of Moving Mountains. “I would strongly urge you guys to think about the fact that we are about to start getting real-life data on where these homes are located, whether we actually do have problems, whether the complaints are legitimate or whether the complaints are limited to one or two bad actors.”
Dan Merritts, a Steamboat resident who is not a property manager, also urged council to slow down. He said short-term rentals are an important piece of welcoming visitors to the community.
“Skiing is already expensive enough, Steamboat is already expensive enough, and making sure that we allow for folks to come to this community is wildly important,” Merritts said.
In contrast, eight residents on Snowflake Circle and Snowflake Court sent a letter to council asking members to put the area back into the moratorium.
“We’ve seen an increasing disruption from short-term rentals negatively impacting our quality of life,” the letter states. “We are concerned that any future short-term rental restrictions or overlays will concentrate those rentals into areas such as ours, further degrading the quality of life on our street.”
Merritts also expressed concern about using what he described as inaccurate data to “change people’s property rights for years to come.”
While council agreed to revisit all data, City Attorney Dan Foote said a cap or overlay zone would not be seen as a violation of property rights in the eyes of a judge.
“This is essentially zoning, and for almost 100 years in this country, the courts have recognized that people’s right to own and use their property are subject to reasonable regulation,” Foote said. “There have been a number of other states that have acknowledged that short-term rental uses are different in nature and impact from long-time uses, and therefore, you can distinguish between those uses when you adopt zoning regulations.”
Council will continue the discussion at its Dec. 4 retreat.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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