Steamboat council blocks member from discussion before approving extension of short-term rental moratorium
Before proceeding with unanimous approval of another extension of Steamboat Springs’s moratorium on short-term rental applications Tuesday, Jan. 18, city council took an unusual step by blocking one of the members from voting.
After opting not to step down willingly, council member Michael Buccino was forced to recuse himself from voting on whether to extend the moratorium by a narrowly split vote Tuesday, Jan. 18.
Council members, who had been unanimously in favor of the moratorium on first reading Jan. 4 — a vote that included Buccino — went on to vote 6-0 on second reading to extend the moratorium on applying for vacation home rental permits until June 30.
Council members Heather Sloop, Gail Garey, Joella West and Dakotah McGinlay voted to nix Buccino from the discussions, while President Robin Crossan and member Eddie Briones voted to allow him to stay.
The decision came after Buccino, an interior designer, made comments at a Jan. 4 council meeting saying he had clients who purchased property near the base of Steamboat Resort for the purpose of nightly renting them. Because of this knowledge, Buccino said he was against placing streets around the resort that were previously taken out of the moratorium back in it.
“What I’m bringing is my experience of the property owners and the second homeowners who are paying taxes and things that come from their lodging,” Buccino said at the Jan. 4 meeting. “I’m trying to be a voice for my clients that are property owners and second homeowners in this town.”
On Tuesday, Jan. 18, Buccino told council members he was not receiving any financial incentive from clients and that his comments were to provide context from decades of living and working in town.
“What I was trying to get across in that comment was that I have been here for 26 years and bring this experience of clients who have come to me and have spent time hiring us to furnish their home,” Buccino said. “I was trying to bring that perspective and those experiences I have seen.”
Despite city attorney Dan Foote pointing out that small communities make conflicts of interest somewhat inevitable, the four concerned council members felt too strongly about the issue to drop it.
Sloop, who originally raised concern with Buccino participating in the discussion after he made the earlier comment about his clients, said she received several phone calls and emails from residents concerned about Buccino’s participation.
“I was hoping that you would have just stepped down, realizing that this is all public record and this is all in writing,” Sloop said to Buccino. “It’s on the record, and I don’t know how you can walk that back at this point.”
Council member Joella West told Buccino she was taken aback by his comment at the Jan. 4 meeting.
“I listened to you give that little speech that night, and I cringed because I thought that it was going to have a cost, and it clearly has,” West told Buccino. “I think that without doubt, you gave an appearance of conflict of interest.”
The four council members who voted to force Buccino to step down emphasized that they did so because of a perceived conflict, not an actual one.
Briones, who voted against Buccino stepping down, said Buccino’s ties to the issue were not close enough to be viewed as a conflict.
“He’s just decorating the houses,” Briones said. “He’s putting furniture in them, so I don’t think there’s any conflict of interest on his part.“
Sarah Bradford, owner of Steamboat Lodging Company commented on Buccino’s participation in the discussion Tuesday.
“I think you all should be ashamed of yourself for what just happened,” Bradford said. “To take someone like that off of council for this very important issue when he knows so much about it, I’m embarrassed for you all tonight.”
The vote only removed Buccino from Tuesday’s discussion, so if council members want to keep Buccino from future short-term rental conversations, they will need to vote again.
Council had originally placed the moratorium on applications until June 10, 2021, so members could make policy around short-term rentals without applications flooding in.
After the new council asked the city’s planning commission to explore deeper policy around regulating short-term rentals, Planning Director Rebecca Bessey asked council to extend the moratorium, so the commission had more time to explore other policies.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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