Aspen and Pitkin County governments talk short-term rental impacts
Aspen and Pitkin County officials shared with elected leaders Tuesday what they’ve learned so far about short-term rentals and their community impacts, and the overall consensus was they’re not done learning.
“I think we need to take a hard look at where this takes us in 10 years if it’s not dealt with appropriately now,” City Councilperson Rachel Richards said at the virtual joint work session between the county and city.
Both jurisdictions are working to introduce regulations intended to temper an industry they believe is hurting the local community by increasing pressure on services, changing the complexion of residential communities, displacing a labor force who can’t afford to live in Aspen and elsewhere in Pitkin County, and creating an uneven playing field with bona fide traditional lodges.
On the other hand, as noted by Councilperson Skippy Mesirow at the work session, STRs have supplanted Aspen’s once affordable lodges as the go-to for visitors unable to pay $1,000-plus for a single night.
“Short-term rentals provide the last vestige of affordable lodging,” he said.
City Council passed an emergency ordinance Dec. 8 prohibiting new license applications for STRs. The moratorium currently is scheduled to expire at the end of September.
“The conditions created for the community by the currently unregulated STR market have created emergency conditions which, in Council’s view, require a legislative response,” according to memo from Community Development Director Philip Suppino and Finance Director Pete Strecker, both with the city, to Aspen and Pitkin County officeholders in advance of the work session.
Pitkin County commissioners are scheduled to decide Jan. 26 on an ordinance that would preclude non-primary residences from being used for STRs. Similar to what Aspen City Council did in October 2020 when it adopted rules to require STR landlords to have both a business license and short-term vacation-rental license, Pitkin County additionally would not allow faceless owners — like a limited liability company or trust — to obtain a license. The city’s licensing program currently does not distinguish between owner-occupied residences and outside ownership of STR properties.
Properties under the deeded ownership of a limited liability company, if they’re to be used for STRs, would need a face with the name, said county Attorney John Ely, noting that could be a shareholder in the LLC.
“It has to be a natural person,” he said. “It cannot be a related entity or LLC or corporation or anything else.”
The ordinance, however, would permit people who use properties as their primary residence in Pitkin County to obtain an STR license. To be eligible, they would need to demonstrate they vote in Pitkin County and pay personal income taxes in Colorado, Ely said.
Commissioners approved the ordinance on first reading in December. It would apply strictly to areas in unincorporated Pitkin County, such as Red Mountain, Woody Creek, and Castle Creek, for instance. It also would ban STRs in the county areas zoned rural and remote.
Drilling down the precise number of STR properties in Pitkin County hasn’t been an exact science. But the county determined November and December saw 157 STRs advertised in unincorporated parts of the county, 259 in Snowmass Village and 738 in Aspen. As well, the Basalt portion in Pitkin County had 15 STRs advertised.
“We know there are more STRs … than is shown here,” said Cindy Houben, the county’s director of community development. Research also showed about a 50-50 split of STRs between owner-occupied residences and outside ownership.
The city, with the benefit of tracking the STR licenses it has issued so far, showed that 1,388 of Aspen’s approximate 8,010 housing units, or 17%, have been used as STRs in the past year. During the moratorium phase, the city plans to revamp its land use code to address STRs, and it also is considering making some zone districts compatible with STRs, while others might not have STRs.
The Aspen Board of Realtors is challenging the moratorium through legal means, and is seeking an injunction to put the brakes on the ordinance.
A hearing on the proposed preliminary injunction is set Feb. 24-25 and a pre-trial readiness conference Feb. 11.
The dates were set at a phone conference Tuesday. City Attorney Jim True had suggested a three-day hearing, and Chris Bryan for the plaintiff said it would take “least one day.” They compromised for two days. Pitkin County District Court is the venue, with Judge Anne K. Norrdin presiding over the case.