Where to draw the lines: Steamboat commission discusses if short-term rentals will be allowed in downtown, Hilltop, mountain areas

The map shows zones where the Steamboat Springs planning department has proposed different regulations around short-term rentals, with green representing areas where they would be allowed under all circumstances, yellow representing areas where they would only be allowed under certain circumstances and red representing where they would be completely prohibited.
Courtesy image

The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission met Monday to further conversation as to where short-term rentals could be regulated and what that would look like, placing particular focus on the downtown and mountain areas.

Eventually, every neighborhood in Steamboat will fall under one of three categories when it comes to allowing short-term rentals, which is currently being discussed by the planning commission.

The city currently regulates only vacation home rentals, a type of short-term rental defined as a single-family or duplex unit where the entire unit is being rented, though Steamboat City Council voted to require licenses for all short-term rentals and contracted with a service called Granicus to ensure rules are being followed.

The categories are defined as by-right, meaning short-term rentals are allowed under all circumstances without needing a special permit; restricted, meaning they are allowed only under specific circumstances; and prohibited, meaning they are not allowed at all. Planning staff defined each zone by color, with green representing the proposed by-right zones, yellow representing the restricted zones and red representing the prohibited zones.

At a glance

Defining the yellow zone: Under the planning staff’s proposed guidelines, the yellow, or restricted, zone, would allow short-term rentals under the following circumstances.

• A homeowner wanting to rent a room or basement in their primary residence

• A homeowner wanting to rent their house for a limited time while they are out of town

• A homeowner with an existing vacation home rental permit

• Nonconforming uses


Commissioners Monday discussed the downtown corridor — which is defined as Yampa Street, Lincoln Avenue and Oak Street from Third to 13th streets — and whether those streets should allow short-term rentals.

Steamboat Planning Director Rebecca Bessey proposed to keep Lincoln Avenue in the by-right zone because most of the street is commercial businesses, and the condos in the area are primarily second homes often used for nightly rentals.

“Everybody would agree that short-term rentals support our resort and destination areas,” Bessey said. “Staff thought that downtown was green because it’s walkable, and it’s a destination for visitors.”

All commissioners agreed that it made sense to keep Lincoln Avenue in the green zone, but commissioners shared varying opinions about Yampa and Oak streets.

While Yampa Street has a strip of bars and restaurants, Planning Commissioner Jeff Steck said many of the condominiums on Yampa Street house full-time locals who may not want to be surrounded by nightly visitors.

As for Oak Street, commissioners said they were torn, because the street is what planning staff referred to as a transition area, located between the heart of downtown and a traditional neighborhood. Oak Street also houses businesses, nonprofits and residences.

“I see how downtown is a very commercialized neighborhood to begin with, but Oak Street is a gray area for me,” Planning Commission Chair Brian Adams said.

How to split up the mountain

While conversation around the downtown area was relatively short, commissioners spent more time deliberating how to split up the mountain area, which includes everything from ski-in/ski-out condos, workforce housing and traditional family homes.

City Council recently voted to exclude a group of streets from the moratorium on applying for a vacation home rental permit, which applies to most of the city and expires in January. Bessey used data from the Routt County Assessor’s Office to determine the local population of each street in the mountain neighborhood, and streets with a local population below 30% were nixed from the moratorium.

While council emphasized they wanted planning commissioners to make decisions outside of council discussions, commissioners used the data of local ownership to determine which streets could potentially fall into a by-right zone.

But in streets farther from the resort and in more traditional “locals” neighborhoods — such as Val D’Isere Circle, Anthony’s Circle, Lauren Lane and parts of Apres Ski Way — commissioners felt those areas should fall into the restricted category, as many residents in those neighborhoods have expressed they want quiet, family-friendly neighborhoods.

“These are more removed from the support of visitor neighborhoods,” Adams said.

As for the condos south of Walton Creek Road, commissioners felt much of the area was known for long-term rentals and first-home purchases by younger members of the workforce.

With the exception of Tom Ptach, all commissioners present Monday felt the area south of Walton Creek Road should fall into the restricted zone. Ptach felt the area should be green.

The in-between

While the mountain and Old Town may have more obvious uses, commissioners agreed the area around Hilltop Lane and Tamarack Drive is a bit more unclear.

AirDNA, a website that uses Airbnb and VRBO listings to track short-term rentals in various communities, shows 26 short-term rentals on Tamarack, Hilltop and streets branching off from those two main roads.

A map shows short-term rentals listed in the Hilltop Lane and Tamarack Drive areas. l AirDNA/Courtesy map

“This is a tricky area, because it’s sort of our middle town area,” Bessey said. “This is a more mixed-density area, and there is bus service throughout it.”

Commissioner Jessica Hearns felt the area could go green or yellow, but after studying the neighborhood, she felt it ultimately leaned yellow. In contrast, Ptach felt the area should be green unless a homeowner’s association decided to restrict short-term rentals.

If council chooses to keep the area yellow, Adams emphasized that full-time residents or those with current permits would still be able to have short-term rentals, just under limited circumstances.

“We’re not changing this from green to red,” Adams said. “There are still all kinds of nightly rental available for these owners.”

What does the community want?

Commissioner Jeff Steck said he felt the recent City Council election sent a very clear message: Most of the community does not want unregulated short-term rentals.

“That was the most overwhelming election of my life, and from what I could see, it was a one-issue election,” Steck said. “The biggest message I got was if you’re not a developer, real estate agent or property manager, you do not want short-term rentals.”

Hearns agreed with Steck and reminded commissioners that the Engage Steamboat questionnaire, used by the city to ask residents what they wanted the future of short-term rentals to look like, showed most wanted more rules and regulations.

Commissioners also expanded the conversation as to whether an HOA should be able to opt in or out of an overlay zone. Ptach and Commissioner Lou Tortora wanted to respect HOA covenants.

“If the language in the covenant of those HOAs said, ‘Yes, we allow short-term rentals,’ then I don’t see a problem with extending it down, because that’s what a majority of those people want,” Tortora said. “If they want to change their HOA covenant, then they can do that.”

Hearns and Steck disagreed, as they felt the HOA may only represent those who own property in the area, not the actual residents.

“That’s how democracies work. We don’t focus on property owners; we focus on the residents, so I think giving HOAs that power is just misplaced and the wrong way to go about this,” Steck said. “People who live in Texas and own (property) here, we don’t represent them.”

The commission will meet again in December to continue drawing overlay zones, ultimately sending its recommendation for approval to City Council.

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