Steamboat likely to extend vacation home rental moratorium until June 30
A majority of Steamboat Springs City Council members agreed Tuesday that they would like to explore extending the moratorium on new vacation home rental permits to June 30.
Council did not take a vote, but its members directed Planning Director Rebecca Bessey and City Attorney Dan Foote to bring back an ordinance that would extend the moratorium. Once the ordinance comes before council, at least four members will need to vote “yes” on first and second reading for it to pass.
• Steamboat Springs only requires a permit to operate a vacation home rental, which is a house or duplex with a yard. The moratorium does not apply to condos being rented, which do not require a permit.
• The moratorium applies to all areas of the city except the “resort residential,” and “gondola zones.” Those zones can be looked at closer at SteamboatSprings.net/DocumentCenter/View/421/CityZoningMap?bidId=.
History of the moratorium
Council members first took up the issue in June after several community members expressed concerns about the impact short-term rentals were having on the city.
Throughout several discussions, council members identified two negative impacts of the practice: the potential role short-term rentals are having on the city’s housing crisis and the excess noise, trash, traffic and parking issues that residents who live near short-term rentals are witnessing.
To address the second concern, which the council identified as “neighborhood character,” members voted on a moratorium to restrict property owners who wanted to obtain a vacation home rental permit from doing so.
City staff suggested the moratorium so the Planning Commission and City Council could research certain policies around short-term rentals.
The moratorium has since been extended several times. In October, council members also voted to remove certain streets surrounding Steamboat Resort from the moratorium, as some members felt those streets would likely fall outside of any restriction the council may pass on where a nightly rental can operate.
In late 2020, council members also agreed to hire a short-term rental regulation firm called Granicus, which has been tasked with forcing all short-term rentals in town to obtain a license. Granicus will also have a 24/7 enforcement hotline that residents can call if a nightly renter in their area is causing an issue.
Bessey suggested extending the moratorium to give planning commissioners adequate time to continue their discussion on overlay zones.
“I am in favor of longer, so that we have enough time to go through the process, and we don’t have to keep revisiting and extending,” Bessey said. “But I also understand that this is time sensitive, and we have to be reasonable and move forward.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, five council members also agreed to explore placing a cap on short-term rentals, and four members wanted to seek a vacancy tax on second homes, which would then be put towards affordable housing initiatives. There are seven seats on the council.
Council member Michael Buccino, who asked to end the moratorium Jan. 30, said he was not concerned about a “gold rush” of permit applications coming in, which other council members cited as a reason to extend the policy.
“It’s more important to me that we get the licensing in place, that Granicus can start doing enforcement and that we put teeth in the bad actors, so they lose the privilege of renting these homes,” Buccino said. “Let this system work its way through and stop confusing the community.”
Since council cut certain areas out of the moratorium in October, the city’s planning department has received 14 permit applications from homeowners on those streets, according to information received from an open records request. Of the 14 applications, the city has so far approved three.
In comparison, the city typically receives about 20 applications in a year.
“I think the flood gates have opened,” council member Heather Sloop said. “The moratorium is working, because the small area that we allowed has now granted 14 in six weeks time, and to me, that’s just showing that if the moratorium is lifted, more would be allowed.”
Other council members wanted to extend the moratorium to allow Granicus time to get a good start on its work and license the thousands of estimated unlicensed short-term rentals.
“We don’t have all the information that we’re waiting for,” council member Joella West said. “While I realize there are people who want this to go away entirely, I don’t think that’s appropriate for us to solve the problem the community would like.”
Should the neighbors play a role?
Some council members said they would prefer a system in which neighbors who live near a homeowner seeking a short-term rental permit can weigh in on whether or not the unit gets one.
“We’ve seen an increasing disruption from short-term rentals negatively impacting our quality of life,” said Karen Desjardin, a resident on Snowflake Circle who wrote a letter to city council, which she also shared with Steamboat Pilot & Today.
“We are concerned that any future short-term rental restrictions or overlays will concentrate those rentals into areas such as ours, further degrading the quality of life on our street,” she continued.
In contrast, Buccino felt it was unfair for neighbors to get together and agree to deny a property owner’s permit.
“I would rather see that we have enforcement that has really good teeth that takes away the privilege of having a vacation home rental, as opposed to having the neighbors dictate someone’s private property rights,” Buccino said.
Foote said it would illegal for the city to ask each neighbor to weigh in and use their input to make a final decision, but there could be other ways for adjacent property owners to have a say.
“We can’t delegate a yes or no decision to the popularity of the neighbors,” Foote said. “The way to do that is create criteria that address the issues that are of interest, like trash, noise or parking.”
Still, council members felt it was unfair for neighbors to have no say in the process, so they tasked planning commissioners to come up with a way for neighborhoods to give input and have their voices heard by the city before a permit is approved.
Planning commission will meet at noon Tuesday to discuss where overlay zones could be placed. Once commissioners finalize their decisions, Bessey will present their findings to city council, which will have the ultimate say.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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