Routt County commissioners insist on robust regulations before legalizing vacation home rentals

Tom Ross

— The Routt County commissioners made it plain Tuesday that if they eventually decide to legalize short-term vacation rentals of private residences in rural subdivisions and the countryside across the county, the practice will be governed by a strong set of regulations.

“I’m going to be in favor of a pretty robust set of regulations, and it’s going to be enforceable,” Tim Corrigan said.

Commissioner Cari Hermacinski suggested to county planning staff during a Tuesday work session, that while rural character is important and needs to be taken into consideration, the city of Steamboat Springs’ “vacation home rental” regulations, which have been in place for a decade, are a good starting point.

“The city has a three strikes and you’re out rule,” Hermacinski said. “We would need to impose occupancy limits and (establish) grounds for revocation. One of the things that’s important when you get your vacation rental license (in the city) is that you must provide an emergency contact. So, staff’s first contact is that emergency contact,” who is required to respond promptly to any issues at a residence where short-term rentals are permitted.

Short-term rentals are currently prohibited in the county, but although his staff devotes considerable time to responding to phone calls and e-mails from residents having problems with vacation renters, Planning Director Chad Phillips said the outright ban is difficult to enforce without a permit process that brings landlords into the county process from the beginning.

Phillips said an informal inventory showed 45 to 50 vacation rental homes with a concentration either close to the city or one of the two state parks, Stagecoach and Steamboat lakes.

Tree Haus resident Ken Carlson amplified that point. Carlson and his neighbors live closer to Steamboat Ski Area than some city residents with homes on the west side of town.

“Four of the five homes that are contiguous to mine,” are vacation rentals, he said. “We have four dogs barking on the deck all day and a party starting at 9 p.m. and lasting until 2 a.m.”

Strawberry Park resident Rodger Steen said that while he knows there are homeowners in the nightly rental market who screen their paying guests, others allow friends to arrive in recreational vehicles, overcrowding a property and taxing water wells and septic systems. Often, they leave trash at the bottom of their lane to be scattered by wildlife.

Professional property manager Robin Craigen said that since the city went through an arduous nightly rental debate that culminated in 2005, many of the fears of homeowners have been allayed.

“We had many, many meetings resulting in a framework of regulations that has allowed for us to co-exist very peacefully,” he said.

Ulrich Salzgeber, CEO of the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, urged the county to consider attaching a significant annual fee to nightly rental permits in order to support adequate enforcement.

Commissioner Doug Monger also called for adequate enforcement.

“I’m exceptionally frustrated with the enforcement concept and how we do it now,” he said. With “regulations, we would be able to do a better job. I’m not really excited about a bunch of clowns from Texas and Florida running down my county roads and stopping at my ranch and asking, ‘Do you know how to get to this place?’”

The commissioners agreed to conduct another work session, yet to be scheduled, before sending the matter back to Planning Commission to begin the process of deciding what short-term regulations might be desirable in the county.

Ultimately, there would be public hearings before both Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners before a decision is made to legalize and regulate vacation rentals in the county.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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