In Snowmass Village, addressing short-term rentals starts with identifying problem

Lots of discussion, data-collection likely to come before council takes any action

Anecdotal evidence abounds when it comes to Snowmass Village’s short-term rental landscape. And there was no shortage of it at a Jan. 3 Snowmass Village Town Council meeting, which ushered in the new year with an hour and a half of discussion on the town’s short-term rental market as officials try to get a sense of what the problems are and how they’d like to solve those issues.

There are the council members who say they’re worried about the character of the town; the housing director who has noted that there seems to be less shared housing and much higher rents; the homeowners who say they’ve seen the impacts of short-term rentals on infrastructure and the feel of their neighborhoods.

Staff and elected officials have recognized it would be helpful to first know just how many short-term rentals exist in Snowmass Village. But throughout discussions on the topic this winter season, town staff have emphasized that getting an accurate and comprehensive grasp of Snowmass Village’s short-term rental inventory would not be easy or practicable.

Some tourism officials tried to cull data in October by scraping websites like AirBnB and VRBO for listings, but “it wasn’t helpful,” Snowmass Tourism Director Rose Abello told council, and “there are quite a few challenges with getting good data from that.”

For one, some homes rent nearly every day of the year and would be easy to spot-check online, but other properties are only rented during peak holiday weeks, or when owners are out of town; pulling the data on those properties might skew averages on rental rates and availability, Abello noted. There’s also the matter of duplicate listings across multiple sites, though Abello said that wrinkle was mostly ironed out.

Still, there is some data that is already available, according to a “White Paper” report compiled for the Jan. 3 council discussion.

The town does know based on a build-out chart tracking all unit in the village that there are 966 single-family homes, 2,820 multifamily units like duplexes and apartments and 982 lodging units (hotels, namely) within town limits, give or take some as the chart is currently being updated.

Among that total count of 4,768 units, a lodging inventory study from 2018 counts 1,699 units are rented on the short-term market — again give or take some, with the caveat that there are some discrepancies because of the way officials count some short-term rentals. About half of the short term rentals (880 by the count of the 2018 study) are hotel rooms, 735 are condos and 84 are private homes.

The study was conducted by the data-tracking company Inntopia DestiMetrics on behalf of the central booking agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and looked at Aspen, Snowmass, Basalt and Carbondale. Similar studies happened in 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2015; another round is due in 2022.

The white sheet notes that the 100-odd unit discrepancy between the build-out chart’s lodging unit count and the inventory study’s hotel room tally is “likely” because of the way condo-hotels are classified and other changes like the purchase of the Snowmass Inn, a hotel that now operates as employee housing.

Snowmass Village doesn’t have a specific licensing or permitting process for people renting out their homes on the short-term market — folks just need a business license when renting their home for 30 days or less at a time — so the town doesn’t have a precise count of how many units are actively part of the short-term market.

Moving forward, Abello said she’d like to see collaboration between the city of Aspen and the Aspen Chamber and Resort Association on a supplemental study specific to short-term rentals (rather than transient inventory at large, which is what the previous studies looked at), so officials can get “apples to apples” statistics.

Getting more data is a “slam dunk” action item for town staff, Town Manager Clint Kinney said during the meeting this week. But there’s still a whole lot more questions to consider before the council proceeds with any sort of action.

The white paper report in this week’s council packet includes 17 items related just to step one, defining the problem. Step two — considering possible actions — has another 12 possible topics to explore; step three, oriented around implementing best practices, has its own seven-item punch list, each with more breakout steps.

Everyone has the impacts on workforce housing on the mind but with only anecdotal evidence, there isn’t a clear consensus on how or if it relates to the short-term market in Snowmass Village. And council members aren’t all on the same page with what they see as the heart of the issue.

Councilman Bob Sirkus has maintained from the get-go that he is concerned about the impact on community character; Councilman Tom Fridstein expressed worries about people operating houses as hotels in residential neighborhoods, which Sirkus also identified as a concern. Councilman Tom Goode and Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk were more focused on ensuring that short-term rental owners are contributing their due to the town.

“It’s an emotionally charged issue but it’s an important one for all of us,” Mayor Bill Madsen said.