Woodland Park Facing Short-Term Rental Invasion

Former Commissioner Issues Dire Warning:  Neighborhoods At Risk

Bob Volpe

Former planning commission member Jerry Penland addressed the Woodland Park planners at a special workshop last Thursday, issuing a dire warning regarding the  impacts for local neighborhoods.

The resident, who isn’t shy about voicing his opinions on growth-related issues, is concerned about the proliferation of short-term rentals (STR) popping up in Woodland Park and Teller County.

This is an issue that has confronted many communities in the Pikes Peak region, accentuated further by the housing demand situation.

Short-term rentals are described as furnished self-contained apartments/housing units that are rented for short periods of time, usually by the month as opposed to annually. They are seen as an alternative to hotels and other lodging amenities.

Penland warned the commission that the growing number of short-term rentals poses a threat to neighborhood communities. He told the commission that there are now more than 100  of these units in Woodland Park.

The former planning commissioner, who often spoke against the tiny home development issue in Woodland  Park, contends that more regulations are needed to regulate this industry. According to Penland, all you need is a business license to start a short-term rental in Woodland Park,  There are currently few, if any, regulations on the books to control how a person conducts these businesses, noted the former planner.

Woodland Park does require STRs to submit lodging tax information, a plus for the city. But  Penland contends this situation has gotten out of hand and is much different from the original intent.

A Growing Mecca for Out-of-Town Investors

Penland believes that short-term rentals started out harmlessly enough as “mom and pop” businesses for homeowners who had extra space in their homes and wanted to rent out a portion, or their property to make extra income. Those are called, homeowner-occupied short-term rentals.

Problems began to arise when out of town investors began buying up properties strictly for the purpose of earning money, according to the former planner. Investor short-term rentals are called non-homeowner-occupied short-term rentals. Penland said,  “These non-homeowner-occupied short-term rentals are a big growing problem around the nation,” added the WP resident. Both types of short-term rentals are being advertised extensively on social media

Penland noted that the process to start a short-term rental in Woodland Park is relatively simple, just requiring a business license. There are no other requirements needed such as a community review or council approval process. He cited instances where residents have expressed concerns over traffic, and random strangers who don’t live in the neighborhood milling about. In addition, he cited noise problems. Penland also said there are no credit checks or background checks required by those renting these properties, and that a sex offender could easily be renting one right next door to your home and you wouldn’t know it.

Penland read from an article about short-term rentals and what industry representatives are saying about Woodland Park.

Woodland Park was specifically mentioned as a boom spot for these types of units. “Woodland Park has yet to institute rules around short-term rentals.” Penland then said, “So the industry is telling investors, Woodland Park is great. Come to Woodland Park and get your -non homeowner short-term rental.”

He also mentioned the fact that complaints that arise with these properties cannot be worked out because the clients are gone before a resolution can be proposed.

Time for a new ordinance

For solutions to this growing problem, the former planning commissioner outlined measures other communities are taking to regulate these properties. Penland cited several ordinances already on the books in Woodland Park that could help curb this invasion of STRs.

Penland  also noted that the city of Colorado Springs, regarded as a pro-growth city, has already  implemented rules regulating short-term rentals. According to Penland, Colorado Springs identified the problem five years ago. After years of wrangling with the issue, the city came up with an ordinance to address the problem, stated the former planning commission member. “The ordinance is really good. We don’t have to start from scratch. We’ve got a 90-percent solution right there; ready to be put into our ordinances.”

He  cited provisions that require the short-term rental unit owner to live in the property 185-days out of the year, and rules that don’t permit two STR units within 500-feet of each other .

Moreover, Penland  told the commission that he would like to see specific action taken regarding this issue. He said, “I would like the planning commission to take ownership of what I call, ‘the STR invasion.’”

For specific steps, he recommended putting “ a moratorium in place to suspend any additional STR licenses for a one-year period.” Also, the Woodland Park resident, who lives near the Shining Mountain golf course, favors assembling “a task force led by the planning department or commission with the end product an ordinance, similar to Colorado Springs. And if some are grandfathered in that they be limited to a one-year exemption.”

Penland wants to see an ordinance, regulating STRs, put into place by January 2022.

That could  become an ambitious request, based on past city trends.

Final action taken to address the issue requires city council approval. And this could reintroduce the touch subject of property rights. Plus, the views of area real estate companies would probably come into play.