Steamboat Planning Commission discusses role of homeowners associations in short-term rental policy

As Steamboat Springs City Council is deciding where and how short-term rentals can exist, the city’s planning commission met Monday to discuss whether homeowners associations should be able to opt in or out of any city rules.

Though no official rules have been passed, council has tasked commissioners with proposing overlay zones, where short-term rentals could be allowed in all circumstances, allowed only with specific conditions or prohibited all together.

While commissioners were supposed to further their discussion about where to place overlay zones, most of the discussion Monday focused on the role of an HOA in the short-term rental debate. The meeting was a work session, so commissioners did not make any official decisions. Once the commission finalizes its decisions, it presents a recommendation to City Council, which decides the final policy.

Steamboat Planning Director Rebecca Bessey said in order for an HOA to qualify for the rezoning process, it would need to have qualifying declarations about whether short-term rentals are allowed in the neighborhood prior to council implementing an overlay zone.

“We’re looking for declarations from an HOA that governs the uses of the entire neighborhood,” Bessey said, adding that if a neighborhood has an HOA that has not addressed short-term rentals for the entire neighborhood, they would not be eligible.

Planning Commission Chair Brian Adams said his thoughts about whether an HOA should have power over an overlay zone were more lenient with residents who previously bought property with the hope of renting it out nightly.

“I have a lot more empathy for people who bought houses with that assumption,” Adams said. “But to start to kind of check for an overlay zone just based on individual unique desire moving forward seems like the opposite of what we’re trying to get to here.”

Commissioner Jessica Hearns said she agreed with Adams’ concerns. She voiced her hesitancy to allow HOAs to opt out of overlay zones in the future, because renters in a neighborhood that do not want short-term rentals may not have the same power to vote on a decision as owners who do.

“I have some pause with that, in that it’s just the owners and not the residents,” Hearns said. “We’ve heard a lot from public comment that owners have changed from long-term rentals to short-term rentals in our community, and that’s part of what brought us to this discussion.”

Adams also said he was concerned about setting a precedent in which HOAs could try and opt out of any city zoning they did not agree with.

“That’s not really the point of zoning,” Adams said.

Commissioner Jeff Steck said he wanted to ensure neighborhoods that do not have an HOA also had a way to represent themselves to the city.

“I don’t think a group of 25 neighbors getting together and deciding they want to change the path of their neighborhood is that difficult to accept,” Steck said.

Commissioner David Baldinger Jr. said he supported allowing HOAs to decide their fate and felt planning commission should gather more information from neighborhoods before recommending broad overlay zones.

“You may be taking a right away from someone, whether they’re an owner or a tenant, and I’m not comfortable with them not having an influence in the process,” Baldinger Jr. said. “I just worry that we may have drawn the map arbitrarily or without the proper data, and those property owners should have the right to determine what their color might mean.”

The planning commission will discuss the issue again in January 2022.

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