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Short-term rental regulations stalled in Pitkin County

The sun shines across multimillion-dollar homes on lower Red Mountain in unincorporated Pitkin County. Multiple homes in the area are listed as short-term rentals.
Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Journalism
The sun shines across multimillion-dollar homes on lower Red Mountain in unincorporated Pitkin County. Multiple homes in the area are listed as short-term rentals.

At a March 9 meeting, Pitkin County commissioners continued to discuss how to approach regulating the short-term rental industry.

Some differences of opinion among board members have stalled the process, so some policy details are still to be decided. And it’s still unclear which county property owners will receive licenses to rent for fewer than 30 days at a time.

When introduced last year, the proposed regulations limited short-term rentals licenses to primary residents of Pitkin County.

It was modeled after Denver’s short-term rental regulations, which were adopted in 2016.

In last week’s meeting, Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said the new regulation has worked well for Denver.

“Denver’s experience with limiting their short-term rental licenses to primary residences has absolutely shown a contraction in the number available,” said Kury. “They have 2500 STR licenses for the entire city of Denver. Whereas, if they didn’t limit it to primary residences, the number would be far greater than that.”

But the ordinance in Pitkin County does not just aim to limit the number of short-term rentals.

Commissioners want the new ordinance to keep corporate entities from operating homes in unincorporated Pitkin County as year-round short-term rentals.

Commissioner Patti Clapper said this commercial practice is bad for neighborhoods.

“I don’t want to allow corporations to come in, take homes, turn them into profit-makers and use our community for financial gain while we lose our sense of community,” Clapper said.

Most commissioners had been in agreement on this approach going into the second review of the draft regulations on Jan. 26.

But public comment caused some commissioners, including Francie Jacober, to waffle in their support of the primary residency requirement, saying other tactics could be better suited to address the problem.

“It’s not the primary residence requirement that’s going to have the effect that we want,” Jacober said. “I think it’s the number of days rented. I don’t think a large corporation is going to come in and buy a house if they can only rent it out 50 or 100 days or whatever. I think they’re looking for a bigger return on their investment.”

Kury was incensed over this back and forth.

“All throughout this conversation, we’ve talked about whether some sort of quota opportunity was the path that we wanted to take.” Kury said. “And recognize that doing primary residence, that is a way to get out of quotas. I am just incredibly shocked and frustrated that we are basically at Step 1.”

On Wednesday, commissioners considered a few exceptions to the primary residency rule in an effort to find consensus.

The board agreed to ban short-term rentals in what are called Rural/Remote zone districts.

They will also consider whether the duration of property ownership could exempt families from claiming primary residency.

“We have so many people in our communities who’ve lived there for generations and generations.” Clapper said. “And they have a history of renting them. So, those people could come in and say, ‘My family has owned the property for x amount of years.’ And they’d have to show that chain of title.”

These additional rules could help the commissioners reach an agreement on the policy in the coming months.

In previous meetings, commissioners also contemplated an exemption for the town of Redstone.

But a group of Redstone residents pleaded with commissioners last week to include Redstone in any new regulations.

Bill Jochems has lived in Redstone for 51 years.

“Please, please, please keep the principal residence limit applicable to Redstone,” said Jochems. “We need it. Otherwise, we’re going to lose our community. We’re going to lose our neighbors.”

Andrea Garf and her husband arrived in Redstone five years ago.

“It was a boulevard of neighbors,” said Garf. “Now, we look to the left, we look to the right, we look across the street, we don’t know anybody. It’s the destruction of the community.”

Commissioners will read the latest draft of Pitkin County’s short-term rental regulations April 13.

It’s unclear at this time when they will hold a final vote.

Halle Zander is a broadcast journalist and the afternoon anchor on Aspen Public Radio during "All Things Considered." Her work has been recognized by the Public Media Journalists Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists.