Glenwood Springs looks to loosen rules for online vacation rentals
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Rules for vacation rentals in Glenwood Springs, and the broader implications of making it easier for homeowners to do that, are getting another look by city leaders as the new year begins.
And, it was clear from a Thursday, Jan. 4, work session on the topic that there are some divergent views among City Council members about those implications.
Late last year, council offered an amnesty period for anyone who has been renting out their private residence for short-term vacation stays without a city business permit and tax license to get legal.
In return, the city agreed not to penalize owners for back taxes and fees, and said it would not require a formal building code inspection.
Owners are required to sign an affidavit saying life-safety requirements are in order, such as functional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Playing by the rules
In addition, council also agreed to allow vacation rentals as an identified use in planned unit developments where such uses hadn’t been contemplated when those developments were approved.
The amnesty program was successful in bringing several homes listed online at sites such as Airbnb and VRBO onto the books, and subject to city, county and state sales and lodging taxes, city planner Hannah Klausman said.
Owners are now required to include their local permit number with their online listing, so that the city can track units and cross-check to make sure people are playing by the rules, she said.
Now, the city is looking at other ways to make it less burdensome for owners who want to rent out their homes for vacation stays, and to expand options for the types of units that can be used for that purpose.
Among the possible changes that will be formally taken up by council at a future meeting will be to make fees and permit expiration terms consistent with hotels and motels.
Council also may allow accessory dwelling units to be used for vacation rentals. City code currently prohibits that.
However, some council members and a few community members who have begun to speak out say it may be necessary to put controls on short-term rentals, which can have negative consequences.
‘Selling out your town’
Historic neighborhoods and community character can be impacted if there are too many short-term rentals, city councilor Shelley Kaup said. And, there’s nothing to prevent investors from buying up multiple properties and essentially operating them as a regular vacation rental business, she said.
“You’re basically selling out your town, and you lose your residential neighborhoods that are close to tourist centers,” Kaup said.
“I would like to see us make it harder, not easier, to do this,” she said.
A common concern is that vacation rentals potentially remove a long-term rental unit from an already tight housing market for area residents.
“That’s the elephant in the room,” said councilor Rick Voorhees, who pushed for an upcoming housing policy discussion to include a conversation about short-term rentals and their impact on the market.
Other council members said they view it as a property rights issue. The city can’t dictate how people choose to use a residential property, as long as that use meets zoning and other codes, councilor Todd Leahy said.
Property owners have different reasons for choosing to offer a unit as a vacation rental, he said, adding he personally manages such properties.
Some may be people who are gone for part of the year and want to offer their home during that time as a vacation rental. Others might find there’s more return in renting short term versus long term, or vice versa, he said.
“We’ve got to be careful not to blanket the discussion,” Leahy said.
Added councilor Kathryn Trauger, “I have just a little bit of a problem saying one type of (rental) business is OK, but another is not OK.”
At roughly 70 units within Glenwood Springs city limits currently being offered as short-term vacation rentals, it’s not a major chunk of the available housing stock, Mayor Michael Gamba said.
“That may change as Glenwood becomes more of a destination,” Gamba said. “I don’t discount the concerns, but I don’t think we’re experiencing them yet.”
As fees, permit renewal terms and other rules are revisited, Kaup said she would like to see favor given to long-term rentals.
As for allowing accessory units to be offered as vacation rentals, council members said they would prefer that the primary residence still be occupied by the owner or a permanent on-site resident who could manage the vacation unit.
Council may also revisit a code provision that says no more than 25 percent of multi-family residential buildings that are under single ownership can be rented short term. Some council members would like to see that number increased.
Any formal changes to the way vacation rentals are regulated by the city will have to come before City Council at a future regular meeting.
With a key water deal denied, the Battle Mountain developer and the town of Minturn are planning to meet next week to discuss the future of the Bolts Lake property.