Pitkin County commissioners to mull new regs for short-term rentals

Coming off changes in Aspen, county board to take a look at booming industry

Pitkin County is the latest local jurisdiction to tackle the booming vacation-rental scene by proposing new regulations to tighten the industry.

Under a proposal that goes to Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday, residences in unincorporated parts of the county — such as Woody Creek and Old Snowmass, and the Red Mountain and Starwood communities — will be required to obtain licenses if they are being used as short-term rentals for periods of no more than 30 days. Only owner-occupied, primary residences would be eligible to apply for a STR license.

“Such a licensing program would create a mechanism by which short term rental property owners pay sales tax, in the same manner that owners of bed and breakfasts, lodges, hotels, and motels do,” the county said Friday in an announcement about the proposed licensing and regulations.

As well, the commissioners are considering banning short-term rentals, or STRs, in the county’s rural-and-remote zoned area, which is outside of the county’s denser urban growth boundary and where residences are restricted to 1,000 square feet. The backside of Aspen Mountain, with its collection of cabins in the Little Annie/Midnight Mine/Richmond Ridge, is an example of that zoning distinction.

“The intent of the zone district and the nature of the location is such that it’s just really inappropriate to put people in the backcountry who don’t know the area or the conditions,” said Cindy Hoeben, the county’s director of community development, in a telephone interview Friday.

Hoeben pointed to the big snowstorm that pounded Aspen and the rest of the county this week.

“Imagine if you rented a cabin and you woke up to this,” she said.

County attorney John Ely, in a memo to commissioners recapping their previous discussions on the matter, noted the zone district’s “general absence of emergency services” and isolation from commercial services that “most prospective renters might not expect.“

By also allowing only primary residences to be used for short-term rentals, “The intent is to limit the potentially degraded sense of community that can come from the creation of residential areas with large pockets that lack permanent residents or the conversion of neighborhoods into de facto lodge developments without appropriate review, zoning compliance, or mitigation of impacts,” said a news release the county issued Friday.

Commissioners held four previous discussions on short-term rentals, the first one June 22, in the lead-up to next week’s first reading of the ordinance, which would create the Pitkin County Short Term Rental Code as part of the county’s overall code. If passed on first reading, the matter will advance to a second reading and public hearing scheduled Jan. 26. The county’s announcement also said the public can submit comments to commissioners ahead of the next week’s meeting at

The city of Aspen already has an STR licensing program that was adopted by City Council in October 2020. And Thursday, the council passed an emergency moratorium, which among its restrictions is halting applications for STR licenses. Existing license holders and those who applied for one Thursday (given the applications are approved), can use their properties for short-term stays through Sept. 30.

Council members said their goal is to have new regulations in place as part of a retooling of the local STR industry. They are also looking at the possibility of limiting STR licenses to primary-residence owners only, reducing license terms from one year to six months, creating a tiered fee structure for STRs based on the properties and their locations, and customizing the STR license caps to the city’s various zoning districts. Council members also said they will use the Aspen Area Community Plan to help inform their policy-making.

There are roughly 1,400 STR permits for Aspen properties through September, according to city officials.

BOCC Chair Kelly McNicholas Kury said in an Oct. 19 meeting the number of properties in unincorporated Pitkin County used as short-term rentals is “upwards of 1,700 to 2,000 STR units. … We’re trying to bring that back more in line with our community’s values of slow growth and permitted zoning and things like that.”

The intent isn’t to penalize property owners with the legislation, Kury said at the time, noting that long-term rentals would still be allowed.

“I think we are adequately protecting a financial and lucrative financial opportunity for all property owners in Pitkin County,” she said, “and we’re trying to strike that balance with turnover at the most 12 times a year versus turnover 52 times a year or less and what that does to a neighborhood.”

If approved, the county’s new regulations would take effect March 31, though subject to change, the county said.