Whiteford: Please think through short-term rental regulations in Vail (column)
I am urging the Vail Town Council, and all members of the larger community of the Vail Valley, to consider where we want to take our community with the pending short-term rental regulations in Vail. I am concerned that what started as an inevitable desire for the town to capture tax revenue from the rentals has morphed into an overbearing and overreaching, top-down framework.
It is not the grasping for more tax revenue that is unsettling; that seems the inevitable action of government entities at every level, and the community can survive it. Rather, it is the cumbersome licensing process and draconian enforcement provisions that risk severe injury to property rights. There is also risk of the unintended consequence of a less vibrant resort.
Vail is a ski resort. It has also become a popular retirement community. But it is not a world-class resort because it is a desirable retirement destination. It is a world-class resort because a bunch of hell raisers did not know enough to be discouraged by the official wisdom of the Forest Service, which in the late 1950s, deemed skiing a “mature sport, well-served by the existing resorts.”
Despite that profound federal view, they plunged in to carve out some of the best skiing in the world and, along the way, to have some of the wildest times imaginable. They collectively knew that great skiing was not enough, and while some founders were more “fun” than others, even a cursory reading of the available material about the beginning here reveals that people were having a great time.
I am sure that occasionally it was too loud for the neighbors. It is hard to imagine more beloved founders than Keith and Carol Brown. They had hugely generous hearts and enjoyed community and parties and music and … noise. (And they did rent their home to make ends meet.) I believe their renters and their own kids may also have exceeded reasonable noise levels from time to time. I also believe that a knock on the door solved 99 out of 100 incidents, and a call to the police department solved the outlier.
There was wildness and energy, and sometimes conflict, in the beginning of Vail, yet somehow that original group and community got through it to the benefit of all of us. There remain a number of ways to resolve any disagreement, and a government-imposed solution, which by definition must fit all, rarely fits any actual circumstance.
So I would ask us to remember that what we sell here, collectively, is fun. Please let’s not begrudge the boisterousness of some guests. We need destination guests to support us so that we can live in the paradise that they visit. And yes, guests occasionally wake me after my bedtime of approximately sunset, but in a world gone increasingly mad, should we begrudge revelry?
Some things I would ask the Vail Town Council to consider:
First, please set aside your personal experience if you have suffered from a noisy rental. It is representative government, and let’s walk especially carefully when we are considering the property rights of second-home owners who don’t get to vote. Most second-home owners, including most of the founders, rented or rent their homes so they could or can afford to own here. They don’t rent long term because they also want to use their homes. So, any idea that nonresident property owners can be forced to rent long term to help with the employee housing shortage is overwhelmingly misguided.
Please also consider that we have arrived as a community in a circumstance where there are not enough hotel beds to support the mountain that we all love and the business enterprises that we all need. The destination guests shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants. We collectively decided over the years to build condos for sale, rather than hotels or pensions. On the other hand, we also have the relatively rare duplex structure, which has opened up homeownership to many who otherwise could not have afforded it.
So, sure, proceed with the plan to license and tax the rentals, but stop short of denying the property owner his ability to earn a return on his investment. In most cases, a knock on the door and a reasonably presented request will quiet a noisy neighbor, whether it is the property owner celebrating some downtime from whatever their real life holds or a renter. In the rare case where that is not enough, the local police department already has authority to quiet things down.
I also hope that town council buries forever the idea that one side of a duplex could forbid his or her neighbor from earning the return necessary to maintain their home here. Does the council want to get involved in the personal finances of so many families and property owners? The proposed regulations would present a significant taking of property rights, almost never a good idea in society that respects the rule of law. If necessary, then fine miscreants, but seriously, don’t even consider putting someone out of business for two years.
And the rest of us, consider that whether you burn the party oil, or barely make it to sunset like me, we live in a resort community. It is not good for the energy of this place we love to be so worried about people having fun.
Also, please, come to the Vail Town Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. We are at a meaningful turning point for our community. As much as everyone should appreciate the Town Council’s commitment of time and energy to the community, there are also turning points that require significant participation from the community to avoid lamentable missteps.
Mitch Whiteford is a Vail resident.