Short-term rental central: Bear Creek Drive neighbors say neighborhood beginning to feel like hotel
Torey and Willis Wodnik live on what they initially considered a quiet street filled with modest homes and families looking to raise children.
As Willis was leaving his house one January morning, he was caught off-guard when he saw a series of snowballs fly across the road and hit the windshields of cars driving by. Assuming a child was behind the incident, Willis walked to the scene of the crime to tell the child to stop.
When he arrived, he was shocked to find an adult male with a series of packed snow balls, standing outside his vacation home rental, throwing the snow at vehicles driving by.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Willis said.
While that story sticks out as the most memorable in Willis’ mind, the couple has a long list of nightmarish stories from over the last five years that 30% of their street has been made up of vacation home rentals.
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The Wodniks share similar complaints to many in town, as Steamboat Springs City Council has heard from dozens of residents throughout the past several months who say short-term rentals are causing a crisis in the city.
Having new neighbors every week
The couple lives on Bear Creek Drive, and their neighborhood, the Bear Creek subdivision, includes their street, Bear Drive, Hunters Drive and part of Meadows Lane. Of the 10 houses on Bear Creek Drive, three have permits with the city to be used as vacation home rentals, which are a type of short-term rental. Such houses are typically second homes belonging to part-time residents and are often managed and rented by property management companies.
Steamboat Springs Planning Department currently only requires permits for vacation home rentals, and a map of where such permits are located show most are on the east side of town near Steamboat Resort.
“We sometimes feel like we’re living on a street of hotels,” said Mike Koponen, a Bear Creek Drive resident.
Koponen and his neighbors wince when they see a new vehicle drive through their neighborhood, as they can almost assuredly guess they’re welcoming a new nightly renter.
While Koponen said many nightly renters are quiet, respectful families enjoying their mountain getaway, many are loud, drive too fast down the road while children are playing and forget to lock up trash cans, attracting bears and spreading trash around the road.
“You’re dealing with this uncertainty and kind of this anxiety where you don’t know what you’re going to have,” Koponen said.
Raising children on a street of hotels
When they moved to Steamboat, the Wodniks were attracted to the Bear Creek neighborhood because it’s a walkable distance to Steamboat Resort, but feels like a modest neighborhood where raising a family is ideal.
The couple puts their children, ages 9 and 11, to bed around 9:30 p.m. each night, as they wake up early to ride the school bus each day. To their dismay, the two children are frequently woken up or kept awake by people in hot tubs outside of vacation home rentals on either side of the house.
“When you’re on vacation, the point is to be selfish and reward yourself for your hard work,” Torey said. “But when the kids are hearing F-bomb after F-bomb from people in the hot tubs at 9:30 at night, that’s not appropriate.”
Torey shares many of the same complaints as Koponen.
“When you throw people on vacation into a residential neighborhood, it just sets up conflict,” Torey said. “When you constantly have an influx of people that you don’t know, that, to me, is a safety issue with wanting to give my kids the freedom to play outside.”
While the Wodniks are sometimes able to communicate with visitors, they are often afraid of any repercussions that may come with asking an intoxicated, loud group to quiet down or reminding a forgetful resident to not leave a trash bin out during the night.
“You’re never guaranteed a nice neighbor, but it’s the devil you know or the devil you don’t know,” Torey said.
The character of a neighborhood
Koponen and the Wodniks have a close relationship with their neighbors. The relationships grew even tighter when COVID-19 hit Routt County, when the neighbors would sit outside and wonder what the pandemic would do to their jobs and livelihoods.
One night, as Torey and several of her neighbors were outside discussing the stress of the pandemic, the group saw a vehicle with out-of-state plates speeding down the road as several children were playing in the street, which concerned the adults.
“Slow down,” the group yelled in unison.
“I was f—— going slow,” Torey said the driver responded.
Months before that, Torey’s children were jumping on their trampoline with other children from the neighborhood when Torey went outside to find a toddler she did not recognize on her trampoline.
The toddler’s mother stood nearby and asked Torey if her child could join the others on the trampoline.
“No, I’m sure your child is lovely and I’m sure you’re a nice person, but I don’t know you,” Torey said she told the nightly renter.
Those experiences, Torey said, have all had a negative impact on the character of the Bear Creek neighborhood, which Torey said is filled with neighbors who consider each other family.
“For me, one of the biggest threats is the loss of neighborhood and the threat of a loss of this community,” said Jenna Hunt, another neighborhood resident.
Months ago, a neighbor moved out of town and the remaining families said they felt sick to their stomachs as they considered the possibility that the new owners could use the home as a short-term rental.
“It was really scary,” Hunt remembers.
As City Council has had several discussions on how to regulate short-term rentals, many residents speaking in public comment forums have claimed vacation home rentals are mainly multimillion-dollar homes surrounding the base of the resort that can only be owned by some of the most wealthy in the area, but Torey and her neighbors said their neighborhood paints a different story.
“We are a modest neighborhood, and we are like vacation home rental central,” Torey said.
City Council member Kathi Meyer said many of the concerns council has received are coming from the Bear Creek neighborhood.
“People are running them like a business, and people in neighborhoods didn’t sign up to live next to a hotel,” Meyer said. “That’s just not appropriate in residential neighborhoods.”
The other side
Hans Binnendijk and Mary Locke bought their second home in 2012. The home, on Bear Creek Drive, met the couple’s desires, as they had long dreamed of owning a house in Steamboat.
In order to cover costs associated with the house, the couple said they had to rent the house out, and chose to rent to short-term renters over long-term tenants so they could use the house when they wanted to.
“We had to make a financial calculation, and at that point, we needed to rent it to cover a lot of the basic costs,” Binnendijk said.
Hans and Mary are friends with their neighbors and say they do everything they can to mitigate the impacts of running a vacation home rental on the street. The couple has directed their property manager to only rent the property to people over 25 years old and those who plan to stay for more than four nights, as well as to give priority to previous renters.
“The situation that our neighborhood and much of Steamboat is in is on the one hand, you have people like us who eight or nine years ago could only make the purchase of the house if you could cover part of your costs with rental income,” Binnendijk said. “On the other hand, you want to protect the neighborhood.”
Several months ago, as many in the neighborhood said they were growing more frustrated with loud, inconsiderate nightly renters surrounding them, the neighborhood HOA board appointed 10 residents to sit on a committee and implement a series of regulations for nightly renters, such as quiet hours, rules around trash and penalties for owners whose tenants repeatedly break rules.
“We had a deeply divided neighborhood,” said Binnendijk, who was on the committee. “By getting together as a neighborhood with what makes sense for everyone, we protect the rights of our families who live here but also people who want to rent out their properties.”
The committee reached a consensus on which rules they wanted to implement, but decided to wait until after City Council implemented regulations on short-term rentals.
In an effort to combat what many residents have described as a crisis and emergency around short-term rentals, the city has hired a compliance service to address immediate issues around short-term rentals. City Council has also enacted a six-month moratorium, and will explore other policies for regulation at its regular meeting Tuesday.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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