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Council eases potential limits on Aspen vacation rentals

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – After hearing from several property owners and brokers who said that few problems are caused by renters of vacation properties in residential areas, the Aspen City Council decided Monday not to impose restrictions on the number of times those properties can be rented annually.

However, an ordinance on vacation rentals, which the council passed unanimously, does make it clear that all owners of property – whether in residential, commercial or lodging districts – will be required to obtain a city-issued business license and permit in order to legally rent out a house to vacationers. Not only that – they must pay sales taxes on those rentals, a requirement that already was part of city code but rarely was enforced in the past.

Council members dealt with the issue for nearly two hours at Monday’s regular meeting and heard a wide variety of comments during a public hearing. Most property owners and others who spoke said they were mainly concerned about potential limitations on the number of times a home that lies with the city’s residential-zoned districts could be rented. Generally, they worried about the effect of such limitations on the local economy.

Mayor Mick Ireland kicked off discussion on the item with a warning for the crowd of about 25 people to be civil. Council members, along with Community Development Department staff, were said to be bombarded over the past few weeks with emails on the topic, some of which were decidedly nasty.

“You need to refrain from using pejoratives to describe staff or anybody associated with any position on this,” Ireland said. “That will not be tolerated. If you want to call somebody a communist or a socialist, save it for talk radio, call Rush Limbaugh or whoever takes those kinds of phone calls, and have fun. But it’s not appropriate here.”

Ireland said city staff didn’t come up with the idea of limiting the number of annual stays at vacation-rental properties. The idea grew from a December work session in which council members gave the staff direction on how to proceed with the proposed ordinance.

At the time, some council members were concerned about the effect numerous vacation rentals might be having on the character of quiet neighborhoods in the west end and the east side of town. But those concerns appeared to subside following testimony at Monday’s meeting.

Tricia McIntyre said that in residential districts, vacation rentals should be unlimited. Enforcing different sets of rules in different types of zoned districts would prove difficult, she said.

McIntyre said she didn’t think renters would do anything different anyway, even with a new ordinance that limits the number of stays. She said most renters aren’t even aware that local laws concerning vacation rentals already exist.

“I think the best solution is what (city staff) proposed, unlimited rentals in the residential districts,” she said.

Former Mayor Bill Stirling said a potential limit of six vacation rentals per year seems absurd. International visitors love to stay in residential neighborhoods because they get a better flavor for America, he said. Many celebrities prefer renting homes to staying in upscale hotels because they want to remain anonymous, he said.

Limiting the number of stays would drive rental prices up, blocking out middle-class visitors, Stirling suggested.

“This town is so wonderfully mixed up, and that’s what makes it so vital,” he said. “Each of the residential neighborhoods really thrives when we’re renting, much more so than when we’re not. In the west end, probably 65 percent of the homes are not in residence for half the year, at least. The renting visitors bring life to these moribund areas.”

Marcia Goshorn, a member of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority Board, said communities have a way of making regulations that shoot themselves in the foot.

“Vacation rentals help to fill the gaps from the lodging base that we’ve lost (in recent years),” she said. Rentals help the families that own the houses to cope with the rising costs of living and paying property taxes in Aspen, one of the most expensive communities in the nation.

Others spoke along the same lines of thought. But Steve Falender disagreed. He said when he moved to Aspen’s west end, he didn’t know he would be living in a “lodging district.” Unlike the city’s commercial lodges and hotels, there is no standard set of rules for renters of vacation homes, he said.

“There’s nothing that’s been proposed that gives us any protection against that kind of annoyance: the people who are out late,” he said. “In the west end, our neighbor’s patio might be five feet from our bedroom. The noise and the difference between being a visitor and being a full-time resident is significant.”

Before the public hearing, Councilman Adam Frisch said he was totally against limitations on the number of annual stays, saying that the city had only received five complaints about vacation rentals over the past four years. He said the restriction was a solution in search of a problem and that if you live in Aspen and want to rent your home out to a tourist you should be able to do it as much as you want.

Safeguards need to be in place to ensure that homeowners enjoy the benefits of safely and comfortably living in a residential zone, Frisch said, “but it’s too important to this community not to take people who want to come and spend money and enjoy it here.”

City staff had proposed allowing only six rentals per year for single-family homes and duplexes within a residential district, each one lasting between one and 30 days. For multi-family dwellings, the council was presented with three options: unlimited rentals only within the city’s Residential Multi-Family District; six stays (the same as with single-family homes); or unlimited rentals in all residential districts, including the Residential Multi-Family District.

Monday’s decision allows for an unrestricted number of rentals across the city, as long as each stay is less than 30 days. A rental lasting longer than 30 days no longer classifies as a vacation rental under city code and falls under an entirely different set of guidelines, such as those pertaining to commercial lodges.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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