Short-term rental license application withdrawn for the Smith Cabin
Representatives of Mine Claim LLC, which owns what’s known as the Smith Cabin on the backside of Aspen Mountain, withdrew their application for a short-term rental license from Pitkin County on Jan. 16.
A letter from an attorney at Garfield and Hecht in Aspen informed county staff that Mine Claim LLC was withdrawing its application because its representatives “do not believe they will receive a fair hearing” at Wednesday’s regular meeting.
The letter also states that the representatives of Mine Claim LLC have decided to use the property in other “lawful ways” but does not specify those uses.
Pitkin County commissioners discussed the application on Dec. 7, but delayed a decision to approve or deny the license to Jan. 25, given concerns from some of the commissioners. (See Aspen Public Radio’s story from Dec. 8.)
According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the authorized agent of Mine Claim LLC is Antonia Zurcher of Aspen and New Castle, who is the mother of Colter and Bridger Smith and their sister, Colby Fulton.
“The Smiths sense that the BOCC will attempt to put onerous restrictions—beyond what the Pitkin County Code currently allows—on their private property if they proceed with the application," according to the letter authored by Christopher D. Bryan.
According to the attorney, the representatives of Mine Claim LLC said they will also consider selling the property at 100 Upper Hurricane Road “to someone of substantial means who does not need to generate income on the property.”
Short-term rental licensing applications in the county’s Rural and Remote zone district, which limits development in difficult-to-reach parts of the county, are subject to approval by the commissioners.
The county approved a new county-wide short-term rental application process in July. The application from Mine Claim LLC was one of two applications for a permit in the Rural and Remote zone submitted to the county since the new regulations were adopted.
At the Dec. 7 meeting, the commissioners denied another application.
So to date, the county has yet to approve a short-term rental application in the Rural and Remote zone district.
A divided board
Colter Smith attended the commissioner’s meeting in December after filing the application in the name of Mine Claim, LLC.
Smith is a real estate broker with Christie’s International Real Estate Aspen Snowmass and told the commissioners that the property is expensive to maintain.
He said the cabin has been rented on a “word-of-mouth” basis to cover the costs for roughly the last six years.
But Commissioner Greg Poschman cited multiple articles that promoted the property as a commercial event destination, including wedding websites.
Poschman told the board and Colter Smith that the short-term rental application did not accurately reflect the nature of the property.
“I'm not buying it,” Poschman said. “I just simply am not buying it. I think that in an effort to get an STR license, you and your attorney have played it down to the point where I'm not sure it's credible.”
As of Monday, the website for the Smith Cabin still asks interested visitors to email the owners for pricing and availability, suggesting bookings at the Smith cabin for weddings, gatherings, corporate retreats and weekend excursions.
At the Dec. 7 meeting, Commissioner Patti Clapper urged approval of the application since the holiday season was approaching, but Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury reminded Clapper that the conditions of approval would prohibit the Smith Cabin from renting during the winter season.
Commissioner Francie Jacober said she wanted to give the Smith family the benefit of the doubt, but also said she needed more time to decide.
“I'm taking you at your word that it's word of mouth,” Jacober said. “You pretty much know these people, but it is concerning that there's an ad online and stuff. So I just would like you to speak to that one more time before I vote.”
Smith did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Future of the Smith Cabin
Commissioners will not discuss the Smith Cabin during Wednesday’s meeting because the short-term rental licensing application has been withdrawn.
However, Poschman asked at the end of the Dec. 7 meeting for county staff to investigate possible prior violations by Mine Claim LLC of the special event provisions in the Rural and Remote zone district regulations.
These regulations are different from the new short-term rental licensing process, and are in place to protect the rural nature of the Rural and Remote zone district.
County Community Development Director Suzanne Wolff said in an interview on Jan. 20 that the county has not issued a notice of violation to Mine Claim LLC and does not plan to investigate further at this time.
“I think at this point, you know, our role would be to follow up with them and make sure they're clear on the regulations and what that requires moving forward if they're having special events up there,” Wolff said.
Wolff added that the county’s enforcement system is not based on fining people for violating Rural and Remote zoning regulations, but rather educating violators to bring them into compliance.
Possible lawful uses of the property without a short-term rental license include renting the Smith Cabin for at least 30 days at a time.
The representatives of Mine Claim LLC could also host personal parties at their property without any regulation, but the rules get complicated with special events like weddings and other large gatherings.
Mine Claim LLC could be granted up to three special event permits during a calendar year, which would allow its representatives to rent the property for a wedding.
But Wolff said it’s hard to know what qualifies as a special event.
“Clearly, it’s gray,” Wolff said. “But the code basically is written that the community development director has the ability to determine if the event they're proposing does not need a permit or does need a permit.”
Wolff says if the representatives of Mine Claim LLC hosted a wedding for their friends and claimed it was for personal use, they would still need to let her department know about it.
But at this point, whether or not the county institutes any further regulations about short-term rental properties in the Rural and Remote zone district remains up to the commissioners.