Routt County considering additional variance requests; short-term rentals prioritized
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Routt County Board of Health considered submitting additional variance requests to further open businesses and services affected by the COVID-19 pandemic during a meeting Wednesday.
This comes after the county received approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to allow in-person dining at local restaurants under strict mitigation guidelines.
Among the top priorities during the meeting was to draft a variance request that would allow short-term rentals to accept reservations when the local lodging ban expires.
That ban is scheduled to end at the end of the month, and commissioners decided Tuesday not to extend the ban. However, the state’s safer-at-home order, which supersedes local rules, maintains a prohibition on vacation rentals like those booked through Airbnb.com, Vrbo.com or local property management companies.
“It became very clear to me that the language of the state order is a significant problem for a large number of our lodging properties, especially in Steamboat,” County Commissioner Beth Melton said during the meeting.
While the commissioners support reopening short-term rentals starting in June, they could not guarantee the state would allow it by then. Gov. Jared Polis plans to offer further updates to the safer-at-home order next week. Over the weekend, he relaxed some restrictions to allow things like in-person dining and to reopen summer day camps, private campsites and ski areas that meet health guidelines.
A number of other Routt County industries, from fitness centers to sports camps, have contacted the commissioners asking for waivers to allow them to reopen, according to Commissioner Tim Corrigan.
The commissioners listed three criteria for evaluating any future variances: economic benefit and community benefit and the degree of risk it poses for public health. They want to prioritize allowing services that provide greater benefits while keeping risk of disease transmission low.
“We can’t do everything,” Melton said. “We certainly, from a safety standpoint, can’t do it all at once.”
Corrigan voiced support for further variances but cautioned that updates from Polis could beat local efforts to the punch.
“It’s an open question how much effort we want to put into developing variance requests between now and then,” Corrigan said.
Commissioner Doug Monger emphasized the need for variance requests that benefit locals. Examples included playgrounds and gyms that could improve the quality of life for residents.
“There are some things that free up our local herd. We need to keep them on high priority, too,” Monger said.
Other counties have had mixed success in securing variances from the state.
Summit County requested permission to open short-term rentals but got denied this week. Meanwhile, Eagle County received approval to allow short-term rentals at a reduced capacity and to permit gatherings of up to 50 people, among other things.
A strong argument in Routt County’s case for lightening restrictions is its relatively low prevalence of the virus, according to Routt County Public Health Director Kari Ladrow. There currently are no active cases, she said, and no hospitalizations have been linked to COVID-19 since April 1.
The county also has expanded its testing capabilities, Ladrow said. Both symptomatic and asymptomatic people can now receive tests for the virus.
The commissioners plan to discuss drafting additional variance requests during their meeting Thursday following input from a policy group composed of a variety of local leaders and business representatives.
Regardless of the outcomes of the variances, public health officials reiterated the importance of following all health guidelines in order to prevent a resurgence of the virus. Failing to do so could lead to a second round of shutdowns and even tighter restrictions, they said.
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