Steamboat City Council will vote on 6-month moratorium on short-term rental permits

After almost two hours of discussion, Steamboat Springs City Council decided to hold an emergency session Thursday to vote on a six-month moratorium on license applications for short-term vacation rentals.

Council member Sonja Macys recused herself from the discussion, as she operates a short-term rental, and the remaining six council members all spoke in support of the moratorium. Tuesday’s meeting was a work session, and council is not allowed to take formal votes in a work session, which is why they will vote Thursday.

Rebecca Bessey, Steamboat planning and community development director, recommended the moratorium to give council enough time to create policy around short-term rentals without being bombarded by new applications, which the city requires for short-term rentals in certain parts of town.

“I think we will be inundated with public comment on every side of the issue as soon as we put something on the agenda to consider,” Bessey said, emphasizing the importance for community input.

Several community members spoke to council Tuesday during the public comment portion of the work session, with some claiming short-term rentals brought more problems than benefits.

“Our neighborhoods have changed,” said Johny Walker, a Steamboat resident. “They’re no longer neighborhoods, because there are no neighbors left.”

Walker said he supports the moratorium, but he is worried short-term rentals have already caused too much irreversible damage.

“We’re already in trouble,” he said.

Other community members said they rely on short-term rentals as a form of income and told council the problem is stemming from large rental companies, rather than residents who rent out extra space.

“You’re telling businesses that they shouldn’t exist anymore and that someone like me shouldn’t be here anymore,” said Tessa Gallo, a local who owns eight properties. “You’re looking at larger companies here, and you’re not looking at the smaller businesses that are trying to make it in this town.”

While council’s Tuesday discussion focused on the moratorium itself rather than what policy measures could be created around short-term rentals, council members Michael Buccino and Heather Sloop both said licensing requirements throughout the entire city would help solve some problems, as short-term rentals would be regulated by the city and rules would more likely be enforced.

“We have a workforce housing issue, and we have a community character issue,” Buccino said. “We don’t want to tell people they can’t do (short-term rentals), but there may be some more steps they have to take before they can do it.”

Bessey also suggested appointing a steering committee to study the issue further, but council felt the committee was not necessary. Instead, council members Kathi Meyer and Heather Sloop, who served on an ad-hoc committee to study the issue in 2019, were tasked with continuing their research and bringing suggestions back to the group. City staff also highlighted several measures for council to consider for future discussions, including stricter licensing requirements, more public information, a review of current parking and indoor event guidelines and the adoption of minimal operational standards for all short-term rentals.

“We don’t have to invent something new,” Bessey said, referencing other resort towns that have enacted similar measures. “There are a lot of examples out there.”

Council has been discussing the measure for years. It first created an ad hoc committee with Sloop, Meyer and two members of the city’s planning commission to study the issue in 2018. The committee presented its findings and solutions to council in 2019, and council directed staff to explore licensing ordinances and compliance services. Bessey told council the moratorium would be useful in figuring out how specific measures could be implemented.

As for quantifying the number of short-term vacation rentals in town, Bessey said the number fluctuates between 3,500 to 4,000 unique units, depending on the time of year.

Because the city has limited staff, Bessey proposed contracting with a short-term rental compliance service, which would be tasked with identifying owners of each unit and working with the Steamboat Springs Police Department and code enforcement to ensure rules are being enforced. City Attorney Dan Foote said, in some cases, compliance employees may have to testify in municipal court if issues require legal action.

“We want to really conduct a deliberate, broad and open-ended process to solicit community input,” Bessey said.

While she originally suggested a nine-month moratorium to give the public enough time to offer suggestions, council members said they thought six months was adequate, and they did not want to continue pushing the topic down the road.

“People write us with emails about this all the time,” Meyer said.

Council members are encouraging residents to use the Engage Steamboat website to share their feedback. The city also plans to have a suggestion box at its booth at the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market on Saturdays.

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