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Colorado resort towns cracking down on STRs

Aspen’s recent six-month moratorium on new residential development and short-term rental permits is just one of many similar measures Colorado resort towns
Downtown Ouray
Parked cars line Main Street in Ouray in September. The town of Ouray, like Aspen, relies on tourists to support much of its economy, but took measures during the fall to place a cap on the number of short-term rentals allowed within town limits. Molly Briggs/Aspen Daily News Aspen Daily News

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by Aspen Daily News and was shared via AP StoryShare. 

Aspen’s recent six-month moratorium on new residential development and short-term rental permits is just one of many similar measures Colorado resort towns are taking to address the impacts of a tourism lifestyle on mountain communities.

Like Aspen, other Colorado towns cite motives such as a need to slow down the issuance of STR permits and preserving units for long-term residents for their efforts in regulating vacation rentals, from caps on the number of allowable STRs to inspection requirements. Aspen Councilmember Rachel Richards said last week that the entire mountain west is currently facing the same situation, and compared it to a boulder barreling downhill toward the towns.

“While we have a pause on any real expansion of these uses at this time, I think it’s fairly clear if you look outside of our immediate Aspen bubble that this is an issue that is facing every resort community across the West,” she said. “If there was another course to do it slowly and smoothly, we would, but this is a boulder rushing into our town and you have to do something to slow the boulder down.”

Other towns have been feeling the heat as well, and even moratoriums are not unique to Aspen. After voting in July of this year to approve a 12-month moratorium on processing new STR applications and licenses, Crested Butte councilmembers unanimously overturned their vote in August. According to the town’s website, all STRs are subject to inspections of operations, including parking and trash, in accordance with a series of ordinances passed in 2017. A total number of operational STR permits in Crested Butte was not available and the Aspen Daily News was not able to reach a representative of the town for comment as of press time.

In Breckenridge, an ordinance went into effect on Nov. 2, capping short-term rentals apart from lodges and hotels at 2,200. The intention of the ordinance was to slow down the amount of licenses being issued, said Bela Del Valle, accommodations compliance administrator for the town.

“I feel like it’s something that’s in place in order to find a way to find that difficult balance between resort community, where short-term rentals are important for our economy, but we also want to continue to be a town and not just a resort,” she said. “[It’s] that balance between long-term residents who want to work and live here and raise a family, and to be able to welcome our tourists, which are the ones who put the bread on our tables.”

According to the town’s website, Breckenridge’s full-time population is approximately 4,500, which means the ordinance allows for nearly half as many STRs as residents. Before the ordinance went into effect, there were 2,801 operational vacation rentals in town that were not affiliated with a lodge or hotel, Del Valle said. The town also experienced an influx of new permit applications at the time that the ordinance became effective.

Breckenridge also allows what they call “exempt” STRs, which Del Valle defined as part of a condo hotel property or anything with a front desk and 24-hour security. Currently, 1,637 exempt STRs are operational in town.

Crested Butte, Glenwood Springs, Durango and Ouray also have placed caps on the number of STRs that can be allowed within city limits or within specific zones. For example, in Ouray, the town council approved an ordinance that went into effect in November to cap all STRs in town to 120. Community Development Coordinator Lily Oswald said that 94 permits have already been issued and another 31 are still being processed.

Ouray’s town council opted for a cap because they felt that it would address the impacts of STRs quicker, and the decision was based on numbers of existing licenses, housing units and other data.

“Everyone’s trying to grapple with the housing and employment crisis, and this is one piece of the puzzle,” Oswald said. “It’s a difficult time for housing for employment, and Ouray, like many other mountain towns, is geographically confined, so we aren’t in the position of being able to just develop out. We have to use creative opportunities to use the land around us.”

Some Ouray residents choose to run STRs out of their primary residences so they can afford to continue living there, Oswald said, but it’s less common for folks who live elsewhere full-time to choose to rent out a second home in Ouray for much of the year. This was one reason why the town decided to take a closer look at STRs, she said.

“We’re very carefully trying to regulate this,” she said. “It’s going to get messier before it gets cleaner, but this will help us regulate better.”

The city of Glenwood Springs also took action in 2019 and capped all STRs to 5% of the city’s total free-market residential units. The town issues two types of STRs — a standard STR permit for an entire home, and an accessory tourist rental permit for one bedroom of a home. Currently, there are 11 operational STRs and two accessory tourist rentals, city planner Emery Ellingson said.

“Our regulations in Glenwood Springs allow for additional lodging facilities in the community while also protecting neighborhoods from a large number of vacation rentals, in addition to preserving accessory dwelling units for long-term residential use,” he said.

Other ski towns, like Vail, are attempting to assess the impacts of STRs without a cap or a moratorium. STR specialist Matthew VanEyll said the town council is in the process of collecting data through a third party and will hold meetings next week and in February to discuss the results of an impact study.

VanEyll added that under the town’s current code, which has been in effect for three years, there are 2,414 operational STR permits. Vail’s population is just above that of Breckenridge at approximately 5,500, according to the 2019 Census.

Aspen will continue assessing STRs throughout the duration of the moratorium and the community will be invited to participate in discussions. In the meantime, Richards said the issue deserves deep and true consideration from the entire Aspen community.

“It’s a balancing act. …These are legitimate interests of a government and a community,” she said. “There’s a number of inequities that we are seeing, and in my mind it’s appropriate to take a time-out.”