Glenwood Springs Council clashes over proposed vacation rental moratorium

Matthew Bennett
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
A pedestrian makes his way north on Cooper Avenue in Glenwood Springs in front of a couple of apartment buildings that are currently listed on AirBNB as vacation rentals.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Glenwood Springs City Council is set to conduct a first reading Thursday night of an ordinance that would potentially place a moratorium on vacation rentals by owners, known as VRBOs.

According to recent correspondence between Glenwood Springs Community Development Planner II Hannah Klausman and council members, since the city’s formal program allowing for VRBOs began in 2013, the total number of registered vacation rentals in the city has climbed from seven to 88.

“It is more the loss of community, loss of neighborhood and loss of character that we are going to experience all over the city if we start having a significant portion of neighborhoods turn into vacation rentals,” Ward 5 Councilman Jonathan Godes said of the upcoming discussion.

While not against VRBOs entirely, Godes told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent the rapid growth of the industry in Glenwood Springs, particularly over the course of this year, has led to an increase in constituents voicing their concerns over homes intended for permanent residents turning into a revolving door of short-term strangers instead of long-term neighbors.

“It is more the loss of community, loss of neighborhood and loss of character that we are going to experience all over the city if we start having a significant portion of neighborhoods turn into vacation rentals.”— Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Godes

It’s a sentiment shared, in part, by City Councilman At Large Jim Ingraham.

“It gives me angst, because I put myself in the shoes of someone who has purchased a home in a residential, single-family neighborhood, where they intend to raise a family or what have you,” Ingraham said. “And, next thing you know they have a pretty much commercial house — and sometimes these are a little bit like party houses, sometimes — next door, and it just does not strike me as fair.

“It does not strike me as a way we want to see our residential, single-family neighborhoods going,” Ingraham said.

As of September, of the 88 VRBOs currently permitted within Glenwood Springs, 75 rent out the entire house, while 13 rent out one bedroom of a house.

According to Klausman’s memo to City Council, “24 cases of unpermitted illegal vacation rentals were documented in the beginning of 2018. Of those, nine came into compliance and are now permitted, while 12 removed their listings, and three were not allowed to operate due to other requirements.”

Prior to late 2017 and early 2018, owners of vacation rentals had to renew their permit every two years, as well as pay a $110 fee upon renewal. Since late 2017 and early 2018, however, applicants now sign an affidavit stating that their rental property does in fact meet safety and building code requirements, with a one-time fee of $110.

“Staff believes these measures, in part, have led to the increase in permits in 2018,” the correspondence stated.

Godes said he is inclined to support the temporary moratorium on VRBOs, not to exceed six months, which would begin on Nov. 1 as outlined by the proposed ordinance before council at its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday night.

However, Ward 3 Glenwood Springs City Councilman Todd Leahy said that, in all likelihood, he will not support it.

Leahy agreed that if the industry of VRBOs needs a closer look in Glenwood Springs, fine. But the idea of a moratorium seems too extreme and too sudden without sufficient time for public input, he said.

“If we are going to do something that serious, and I do believe moratoriums create a lot of serious consequences, … the process of how we got here is, to me, not how you handle land-use issues of this magnitude,” Leahy said.

“You have people investing in this town millions and millions of dollars into the housing stock, and some people are planning on using those for vacation rentals,” he said. “And to just, one night, kind of without proper notice, create a moratorium, that was frustrating to me. It was more procedural than anything else.

“I have no problem at all having the discussion about VRBOs. … Have an open, honest discussion with the town as to what is working and what is not, and then fix the situation. Do not do it through moratoriums,” Leahy added.

The discussion is listed as the eighth item on the regular City Council agenda, which begins at 6 p.m. Thursday at Glenwood Springs City Hall.