To cap or not to cap? Planning commission weighs more of the short-term rental debate
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that Granicus does not bring units into compliance. Granicus gives city staff to bring units in.
A cap on short-term rentals could be in Steamboat Springs’ future.
Where the caps will lie, how many rentals will fill a cap and other details are still to be determined. But, at a Thursday, Feb. 10, meeting, Steamboat Springs planning commissioners agreed that they liked the idea of caps to go along with overlay zones, which the commission has been discussing for several months.
Commissioners were tasked months ago with drawing overlay zones where short-term rentals will be allowed by right, allowed only under specific circumstances and prohibited altogether.
Those boundaries are still being drawn, but commissioners have expressed support for allowing nightly rentals by right near Steamboat Resort and on Lincoln Avenue and Yampa Street, while allowing them only in certain circumstances in Old Town and in neighborhoods surrounding Walton Creek Road.
What are the rules?
Until 2021, Steamboat required a permit only for vacation home rentals, which the city defines as homes with a backyard. Condos, bedrooms within a home and any other short-term rental did not require a permit or license.
Because of this, the city had almost no way of knowing how many short-term rentals actually existed and relied mostly on reports from property managers and ever-changing, inaccurate data from short-term rental tracking websites.
In September 2021, the city began its work with Granicus, a short-term rental licensing firm tasked with bringing each unlicensed unit into compliance and providing 24/7 enforcement against nightly renters causing noise, trash or parking problems. Granicus has since tracked 3,020 short-term rental units across the city, with 98.6% of them being the entire home, and only a small percentage being a room or garage unit.
The yellow and green zones
As for caps, most commissioners agreed not to have limits in what will be the future green — or by-right — zone, as that zone is made up of second homes purchased near the resort with the intent of short-term renting.
Commissioners shared differing opinions around the future yellow zone — where nightly rentals could be allowed under certain circumstances, like a full-time local renting their house for weeks out of the year while they vacation or renting a basement or extra bedroom.
Commission Chair Brian Adams said locals renting their homes in the yellow zone for 100 days out of the year may seem fine in theory, but those 100 days could bring renters who create problems for their neighbors.
“I think a lot of it is about perception, and that it doesn’t matter if they’re there 250 days,” Adams said. “The 100 days that they’re not there and they’re renting it out, and it’s loud and there’s trash and all the complaints we’ve read about time and time again, that’s perceived as practically the entirety for the neighbors.”
Commissioner David Baldinger Jr. said allowing homeowners to rent for a portion of the year and bringing liveliness to the neighborhood could be more ideal than a house sitting dark for months.
“I have several neighbors on my street that go south or leave during the winter,” Baldinger Jr. said. “Whether their home is vacant and I’m snow blowing the driveway, or it’s a rental and there’s good enforcement, as a citizen, I personally think it might be nice to have someone in the neighborhood.”
Baldinger Jr. also said locals against short-term rentals could change their mind after seeing the city’s first serious enforcement with Granicus, as residents have always relied on the police department to enforce the rules in the past.
Still, many commissioners felt even having to call an enforcement officer would turn someone off to letting their neighbor rent nightly to a visitor.
“If I have to call the police eight times a year, that could be two weeks worth of rental, but it’s enough to dissuade me from thinking this is a good idea at all,” said Commissioner Lou Tortora. “Whether it’s 120 days and whether you know the person or not, the burden of enforcement falls on the individual that is impacted, which I think is so backwards.”
Baldinger Jr. also said Steamboat is stretched for space in hotels, so oftentimes, short-term rentals are the only option for visitors in town.
“We’re very under-served as a community with hotels and lodging, and part of our lodging base is certainly multi-family units,” Baldinger Jr. said.
In the past, commissioners have also pointed out that the same multi-family units many purchase to rent nightly are used as attainable housing for locals with modest salaries.
The details of a cap
As commissioners got deep into the weeds over what a cap should be and where they should go, Planning Director Rebecca Bessey cautioned commissioners against getting too detailed on either side of the rule-making.
“Too many exceptions could dilute the concept of caps,” Bessey said. “The more complicated we make the policy, the harder it is to enforce and track compliance.”
Still, commissioners felt caps were what most of the community wanted, as most who responded to the Engage Steamboat survey asking what short-term rental policies locals supported said they wanted stricter rules.
“I want to see a number less than 3,020,” said Commissioner Jessica Hearns. “I want to see a number that is less than the status quo, because the community has told us over and over that status quo is not what they want.”
Commissioners agreed that caps should not be made broadly, but rather by looking at density and character of every street on an individual basis.
At the same time, commissioners supported caps within overlay zones, as overlay zones provide a clearer picture of where nightly rentals are and are not allowed.
The fairness of a cap
Though most Engage Steamboat respondents reported that they wanted short-term rentals restricted in certain areas, some commissioners questioned whether a cap on such units is fair to property owners.
“If we add the cap as first-come first-serve, we’re now playing favorites,” said Commissioner Martyn Kingston. “We’re sort of favoring one property over another, and I want fairness to be brought into the conversation.”
Commissioners will hold a work session Monday, Feb. 14, to continue the discussion.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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After nearly a year in the hands of the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission, the three ordinances that would implement both a short-term rental licensing process and a short-term overlay zoning map were brought before Steamboat…