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Pitkin County commissioners meeting gets heated during short-term rental discussion

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Halle Zander
Aspen Public Radio
Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper, left, smirks when Commissioner Francie Jacober reads from a written statement about her disapproval of the county’s draft short-term rental regulation. Clapper later said she was offended by some of Jacober’s remarks.

Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday moved draft legislation regarding short-term rentals to a third reading in May.

However, it’s unclear if they will approve it.

The county’s draft ordinance requires anyone renting their property for less than 30 days at a time to be a primary resident of Pitkin County, barring a few exceptions.

Some commissioners were not convinced of this approach.

Commissioner Francie Jacober was particularly averse to an exception that Commissioner Patti Clapper originally suggested, which would allow longtime Pitkin County homeowners the option to operate their property as a short-term rental, even if they cannot claim primary residency.

“I cannot support an ordinance that discriminates against these constituents in favor of old Aspen families,” said Jacober.

Clapper took offense to this characterization.

“I was trying to be fair to people who have long-term investments in our community,” said Clapper. “Not that tourists and people who have second homes are not valuable. But I was just trying to find a way we can reach a compromise and move this forward. In no way, I want to make it very clear, was I attempting to discriminate against anyone. And I’m offended that you would say I was trying to discriminate.”

Commissioner Steve Child said he agrees with Jacober.

Instead of requiring primary residency, Child suggested limiting the number of days that a property can be rented out on a short-term basis.

“It would keep the corporations from buying a house and running it as a little, mini-hotel 365 days a year, which is really one of our huge concerns,” said Child.

Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said that would be too difficult to enforce.

“I’m just concerned that what you’re raising is an auditing nightmare,” said McNicholas Kury. “And we won’t know truthfully what is happening out there, rendering all of our data void. And not being able to respond accurately to abusive situations.”

McNicholas Kury added that people will reach out to the county for additional days under such a policy.

The commissioners accepted public comment during Wednesday's meeting, and most speakers were homeowners from Redstone.

Gabe Molnar, director of commercial real estate in Colorado for Douglas Elliman, used strong language to criticize the draft regulation.

“Regulations as they are currently drafted are frankly xenophobic,” Molnar said. “Ask yourself: Why do so many of these people vehemently not want STRs? Many, if not the majority of visitors, in my and other STRs are middle-class families with children who may not look like many of the residents in the valley.”

Andrea Garr, owner of Redstone Cliffs Lodge and a full-time resident of Redstone, said she had little sympathy for second homeowners who operate short-term rentals.

“If you have a second home, it’s a luxury,” said Garr. “There are many people who live in this valley who don’t have housing, can’t find rentals, who can’t afford to buy a property. Those are the interests that you need to be preserving and protecting.”

Some short-term rental operators claimed at the meeting that the practice helps them afford their second home in Pitkin County.

And they hope to live on the property in the future.

Although Commissioner Greg Poschman appreciated the sentiment, he said those intentions aren’t always reliable.

“Everybody always says it’s going to be their forever home,” said Poschman. “How many times have we heard that from developers? That it’s going to be their forever home, and then they flip it, and then they’re gone. So anybody who claims that they’re going to retire here, I hope they can and I hope they do, but we all know plans change. And we can’t hang our hats on that.”

The third reading for the draft regulation will take place May 11.

At that time, small amendments can be made to the ordinance before commissioners call a vote, but bigger changes that alter the primary residency requirement could delay the process further.

The board is nearly split on the current draft ordinance.

The final decision could be decided by a single vote.