Snowmass lawmakers mull regulations for vacation rentals

City Council and Snowmass community discuss restrictions on short-term vacation rentals.

Snowmass Village residents and homeowners voiced support and concerns regarding short-term rental restrictions at Monday’s Town Council meeting that addressed potential regulations and permitting process for single-family residences.

At the meeting, council members considered feedback from a recent survey soliciting responses from Snowmass Village residents and public comments that lasted nearly two hours.

The council ultimately decided to move forward with creating a permitting process that would impose a four-night minimum on guest stays and a limit of two occupants per bedroom, plus two occupants for homes with one to three bedrooms, or plus four occupants for homes with four or more bedrooms. Short-term rentals are stays of no more than 30 days during one visit.

An appeal process will be available for homeowners wanting the town to review the occupancy limits for their residence. The restrictions only apply to single-family residential homes. Council members also discussed the possibility of a “strike” system for violations of short-term rental regulations.

These restrictions — which, aside from the permitting requirement, will have a delayed enforcement date  — will be reevaluated after more data is collected and reviewed from the permitting process.

“We need more information, and I think the permit process is going to get us information that we don’t currently have,” council member Alyssa Shenk said. “I think (the) first step is to see if people are going to take the initiative to register, get their property properly permitted, (abide by) the safety regulations. … I think we need to understand what the usage is, and we don’t really understand that right now for single-family homes.”

Council member Tom Goode emphasized Shenk’s request for more data before setting strict limits: “If it’s not broken, why are we trying to fix it? Do we really have a problem with short-term rentals?”

The answer, according to Mayor Bill Madsen, is yes.

Of the 270 responses the survey received, 142 (53%) indicated they did not own a short-term rental, and 126 (47%) indicated that they did own a short-term rental. 

Snowmass resident Greg Smith pointed out at the meeting that the 126 respondents who indicated they own a short-term rental represent a 150% response rate, since there are only 84 single-family private homes that rent short term in Snowmass Village, according to a 2018 lodging inventory study. In contrast, the 142 respondents who do not own a short-term rental represent an 18% response rate among non-renters, according to Smith.

The regulations proposed in the survey suggested a 56-night maximum of rentals per calendar year and a limitation of two occupants per bedroom, plus four occupants for the residence, in addition to safety regulations. The council also proposed a permitting process for all single-family residences who wish to rent on a short-term basis.

Sixty-seven percent of respondents said the 56-night maximum was “too restrictive,” 13% indicated the proposed regulations were “about right,” and 19% indicated that the proposed regulations were “not restrictive enough.” 

Cody Truscott, who attended the meeting virtually, said that placing limits on the length of the stay would limit the diversity of the visitors to Snowmass Village. From his observations, he said he found that people of color tended to stay for shorter visits, rarely renting for more than four nights.

“I would like the flexibility to, during certain times, allow shorter (visits) because I know that it brings in a more economically and racially diverse group of people,” Truscott said.

Twenty-two percent of survey respondents said the occupancy restrictions were “not restrictive enough,” with the remaining responses evenly split between “about right” and “too restrictive.”

Other common themes mentioned in the survey responses included parking issues, having a variety of lodging types for visitors and the importance of having an alternative to hotels, according to Assistant Town Manager Greg LeBlanc.

Goode and Madsen cautioned that regulations may not solve the issue entirely.

“It doesn’t go away with regulations. … A lot of people I think would like us to just eliminate it altogether — no short-term rentals,” Madsen said. “The language in the municipal code … is that there shouldn’t be any commercial operations in residential neighborhoods.”

However, as Goode stated, “this is a resort,” and the council was not suggesting that short-term rentals would go away completely.

Though many of the survey comments in support of restrictions specifically cited issues on Lemond Place, where the Truscott family frequently has short-term tenants, members of the audience argued the scope of the issue extended beyond Melton Ranch.

Goode suggested that the regulation of short-term rentals could be left up to homeowners’ associations and the local police department, to enable more localized regulations. According to Shenk, the Snowmass HOA, which is the largest HOA in Snowmass Village, has refused to regulate short-term rentals.

Goode also floated the possibility of creating an advisory board to hear more from residents. However, the idea was vehemently shut down and met with clamor from the audience.

“If you guys can’t make the decision, they’re going to be making the decision with way less authority. … The guidance needs to come from you guys,” Town Manager Clint Kinney said.

The discussion in Snowmass Village comes as Aspen and other nearby resort towns are also considering how to regulate short-term rentals.