Pitkin County’s short-term rental ordinance tabled as rift over class emerges
Public comments Wednesday about an ordinance to regulate short-term rentals in unincorporated Pitkin County opened up a fissure between one county commissioner and the rest of the board over which class of people should benefit most from it.
A visibly angry Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury told fellow board members she was “shocked” to hear them waffle on what she thought was an agreement to allow only homeowners in primary residences to rent out their homes on a short-term basis after several second-home owners complained about it Wednesday.
“This is what’s frustrating to me in a lot of the short-term rental conversations I’m in,” McNicholas Kury said. “A lot of the conversation comes around to, ‘How do we protect the generation of wealth for second, third and fourth homeowners?’ when we have entire populations of our community who cannot access a rental or afford to buy a home here.”
The board agreed Wednesday to postpone any action on the short-term rental ordinance and asked staff to come back with more information. The public hearing and public comment was scheduled to resume March 9.
Pitkin County commissioners have spent a year taking public comment and working on the proposed ordinance with their staff in an effort that started out as a bid to collect sales tax on a booming, untaxed portion of the local tourist market but blossomed into a campaign focused on protecting neighborhoods from “hotel houses” and “hotelification” by out-of-town, investment property owners.
The ordinance preliminarily approved by commissioners Dec. 14 allowed only owner-occupied, primary residences to be rented out on a short-term basis on websites like Airbnb and Vrbo. Those owners would apply for a short-term rental license from Pitkin County, and the ordinance would only apply to residences outside of the municipalities of Aspen, Snowmass Village and Basalt.
Commissioners specifically decided not to limit the number of days a residence could be rented under the auspices that a primary residence would be owner-occupied a majority of the time. The maximum number of people allowed in short-term rentals would be twice the number of bedrooms plus two.
The only other condition on short-term rentals imposed by the proposed ordinance concerned excluding residences in the Rural and Remote zoning district, where emergency services are not readily available in those backcountry locations.
However, after listening to a couple of hours of public comments Wednesday — many from people who said they could only afford to own properties here by renting them out part of the year — four of the five commissioners appeared ready to blow up the careful legalese they spent months crafting, with some even questioning whether the Rural and Remote properties should have been excised.
“I like having people with second homes to be able to pay for their homes with short-term rentals,” said Commissioner Steve Child. “It’s a very common thing that’s happened for a long time in Aspen.”
Commissioner Francie Jacober said she never supported the idea of only allowing owners in primary residences to rent out their homes on a short-term basis.
“I believe it’s too punitive for too many people,” Jacober said.
Both said they preferred a system that limited the number of days a property could be rented — Child suggested between 60 and 90 per year — instead of the primary residence condition.
“If we limit the number of days, (corporate investment interest) will dry up,” Jacober said.
They were swayed by public comments from people like Chad Waldorf, a former Pitkin County resident who moved to South Carolina to open a restaurant but has held on to his Woody Creek home for 30 years. He said he and his family spend 12 to 15 weeks per year here, and he’d have to sell the home if he couldn’t rent it out during the interim months to pay the mortgage.
Gideon Kaufman, a local attorney, told a similar story about a longtime friend in the area. Other locals with vacation rental businesses echoed the complaints, saying the ordinance might even make local neighborhoods more vacant because they would only be made up of seldom-visited second, third or fourth homes.
Denise Malcolm, a Red Mountain homeowner, even sang the praises of the short-term rental market, saying that seeing people out and about riding their bicycles in recent years has provided her once-vacant neighborhood with “a new vibrancy.”
After hearing local attorney Chris Bryan advocate for a backcountry cabin owner to be able to rent it out, Child said he was willing to reconsider the exclusion of Rural and Remote properties. He suggested creating a backcountry category for short-term rentals, where renters would be notified of the rustic conditions.
Commissioner Greg Poschman said he was willing to consider limiting the number of days a property could be rented instead of requiring the primary owner rule, but that backcountry rentals should not be allowed. He said he did not believe Bryan’s assertion that just one Rural and Remote property is interested in the short-term rental market, and “we can anticipate there will be many more.”
But it was McNicholas Kury’s outrage at her colleagues’ apparent willingness to ignore complaints from residents of neighborhoods in the unincorporated county in favor of making life easier for second-home owners that put an exclamation point on Wednesday’s meeting.
“We ask for creative solutions for the workers here to gain housing, yet we can’t ask second-home owners to come up with creative financial solutions to keep and maintain their home here?” she said. “What I’m saying is that we put different burdens on different classes of people who live in our community about how they access and hold on to homes and where they live. That’s what’s frustrating me.”
Mother Nature — and some unfortunate training injuries — completely changed the vibe around the women’s halfpipe skiing final on Saturday at X Games Aspen.