Routt County’s short-term rental ban is here to stay
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Members of the Routt County Board of Commissioners opposed potential changes that would have allowed short-term rentals in unincorporated parts of the county.
They voiced their stance during a Routt County Planning Commission meeting Thursday, when they discussed future amendments to building and zoning codes.
The discussion comes as planning officials have received an increasing number of complaints from county residents concerning neighbors who allow nightly stays on their properties.
Changing the ban on short-term rentals was among a list of proposed amendments that the Planning Commission was considering. Members decided to maintain the prohibition, with commissioners wanting to crack down on those who break the code.
They argued that the current rental codes reflect the values of residents and maintain the rural integrity of Routt County.
County residents should expect stricter enforcement in the future, which could mean a lawsuit against repeat offenders who profit from nightly stays.
The question of whether to allow short-term rentals has been an issue for small mountain communities across the state. Many of them, Routt County included, already have housing shortages. What remains is often unaffordable to many potential residents.
Short-term rentals, defined as a stay of less than one month, have exacerbated that problem.
A 2019 Regional Workforce Housing Report published by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and Colorado Association of Ski Towns found that such rentals reduce the number of long-term rentals. That means even fewer places for residents to stay.
An article published in Outside magazine in 2017 traced how Airbnb, a popular vacation rental service, has transformed resort towns like Crested Butte. Where middle-class or seasonal workers once lived comfortably, many now work multiple jobs to pay for what small sliver of long-term rentals remain.
That is part of the reason why the Routt County Planning Commission regulates short-term rentals. Its master plan, which includes building and zoning codes, allows such rentals only in municipal areas, including towns like Steamboat, Hayden and Oak Creek.
That has not stopped some homeowners in unincorporated parts of the county from hosting short stays.
In the past year, County Planning Director Chad Phillips has seen a rise in complaints regarding nightly rentals. Most of them concern loud noise coming from guest parties.
The issue peaked last year, when Phillips received a complaint about 13 houses filled with nightly renters in the Tree Haus neighborhood south of Steamboat.
He explained that the enforcement following such a violation includes a three-step process.
First, the county sends a letter notifying the property owners of the violation.
“Most of them don’t make it past that step,” he said.
If the issue continues, officials determine a specific date by which the property owners must fix the violation. Once that deadline passes, the case heads to the county commissioners, who may file a lawsuit to gain compliance.
The violations in the Tree Haus neighborhood predominantly stemmed from confusion over rental rules, Phillips said.
“The overwhelming majority said they didn’t know it was against zoning regulations,” he said.
Responding to an increase in violations and confusion over where rental codes apply, the Planning Commission convened a joint meeting in 2017. Members worked to determine if growing areas like Stagecoach could permit short-term rentals. They also heard comments from members of the public.
Following the meeting, they took the position that Stagecoach may be considered in the vicinity of a municipal area and thus able to conduct short-term rentals.
Officials reversed that decision Thursday, labeling Stagecoach as a potential growth area and therefore not viable for nightly stays.
Troy Brookshire, a member of the Planning Commission, said the decision reflects the wants of the majority of residents.
“In 2017, only one person wanted to allow nightly rentals. He was a property manager,” Brookshire said.
But some county residents argue that their living situations require short-term rentals.
Charles Mobley, who owns 18 acres south of Eagles Watch near Stagecoach, made a public comment at the Thursday meeting.
His family spends most of the year in the Cayman Islands. They usually stay three or four months in their Routt County home and rely on short-term renters to maintain the property for the rest of the year.
“Long-term rental is not an option for us because then it eliminates our place for our own use,” he said.
Now that the rental regulations have been clarified, and county officials do not plan to change them anytime soon, property owners should expect tighter enforcement.
Commissioner Doug Monger said he and his fellow commissioners will take a more active role in the issue.
“The biggest change will be that we aren’t going to wait for complaints from neighbors or people down the street,” he said. “We are going to selectively start enforcing nightly rental regulations.”
Phillips said those regulations help limit growth to municipal zones and preserve the rural parts of Routt County.
“We are maintaining our Western, rural character,” he said. “That is truly unique in the U.S.”
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