Glenwood Springs Council tables changes to vacation rental rules
At the end of a long discussion Thursday night about vacation rental policies and the potential impact on Glenwood Springs’ dire workforce housing situation, it wasn’t immediately clear if City Council had evolved or devolved in the broader housing debate.
On the one hand is a willingness by some council members to make it easier for owners to use residential properties however they choose. On the other is some resistance to create a free-for-all without a full discussion of all the ramifications, and ultimately a guiding policy regarding housing in general.
Council agreed to table indefinitely a pair of proposed ordinance amendments that would have further loosened the rules for short-term rentals of residential properties in Glenwood. In the meantime, city staff was asked to do some more research to see how other mountain towns deal with vacation rentals, and make some determinations as to how the potential proliferation of such rentals could affect the city’s supply of long-term housing.
One of the proposed ordinances on the table Thursday would have allowed accessory dwelling units, which are separate units secondary to the main house, to be rented for less than 30-day stays. Currently that is not allowed.
The other would allow a greater percentage of commonly owned units in downtown multi-family residential buildings to be rented for short-term stays.
As public comments were taken on the issue, and as council members weighed in on the issue, the broader questions around the city’s housing policies kept coming up.
For now, the council wasn’t ready to enact any new provisions to allow for more tourist options, in the face of an ever-tightening housing market for people who live here.
Currently, Glenwood Springs has 78 housing units that are officially permitted through the city to be offered as vacation rentals, plus four so-called “accessory tourist units,” which are single bedrooms within an owner-occupied house that are made available for short-term stays.
Last year, the city stepped up its efforts to require units offered through vacation rental websites such as Airbnb and VRBO to be listed with the city, so that lodging and sales taxes could be collected, and so the city could more closely monitor such units.
However, a quick scan of the available online listings suggests the number of actual residential units being used in that manner is over 200, said Kevin Brady, a downtown business owner who said it might be time to reign in short-term rentals.
“Do we want the economic impacts on our town to depend on part-time guests, or on full-time residents?” Brady offered.
Clark Anderson, executive director of Community Builders, which spends a fair amount of time addressing the affordable housing issue, encouraged City Council to develop a housing strategy to guide its decision-making on the issue.
“Housing is not an economic issue in this community, it is the economic issue in the community,” Anderson said.
“The reason we have a housing affordability challenge is because we have more demand than supply,” he said. “We have to find a way to boost the supply and diversity of housing, and I would love to see this community come up with a strategy to do that.”
Some area resort communities, including Breckenridge, have recently placed a moratorium on new vacation rental properties in order to get a better handle on the situation. But Breck and other ski resorts also are seeing much higher numbers of individually owned properties falling into that category, typically in the thousands.
Glenwood Springs is no where near that, Mayor Michael Gamba noted. But that would be a problem if it ever got to those kinds of numbers, he admitted.
“I think we have to admit there is a benefit to them at a certain point,” he said. “It provides another opportunity for tourism, and we are a tourism economy.”
Councilman Rick Voorhees said he couldn’t support any new ordinance changes without having a series of meetings focused on housing policy, and some sort of strategic plan on the books to help direct housing-related decisions.
“This does have a detrimental effect on workforce housing,” Voorhees said of vacation rentals. “The more we do this, the less housing we have for the people who do the work in town.”
Voorhees said the city also should wait until a regional housing study is completed before making any policy decisions. Such a study, including a broader housing needs assessment, is currently being done by a group that’s looking at asking voters whether to create a regional housing authority to develop more workforce housing.
Ken Murphy, owner of Glenwood Adventure Company, said vacation rentals are an important component of a tourism economy. But he, too, said he sees some need for controls, especially after three of his employees lost their homes when the owners decided to switch to short-term rentals, instead of long-term leases.
Some residents who have ADUs associated with their properties spoke at the meeting in favor of allowing ADUs to be rented short-term. Joel Belmont of Glenwood Springs said he has such a unit that is used by his in-laws when they are visiting from out of the country. But it would be nice to rent it short-term during the months in between those visits, he said.
Marco Dehm, a member of the city’s planning and zoning commission, said he would be concerned if an inordinate number of the 400-plus new apartment units the city has approved in recent years all of a sudden became vacation rentals.
“This is our most critical economic development issues,” Councilwoman Shelley Kaup said, speaking against the ordinance changes. “We should not put ordinances in place that we know are going to lead to a loss of housing in our community.”
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Eagle County will go to Stage 2 fire restrictions Friday, joining Pitkin County and other state and federal lands in the area.