Vacation Home Explosion Continues in High Country

Woodland Park Mulls More Defined STR Regulations

Bob Volpe

The Woodland Park City Council and Planning Commission held another work session to hash out what to do about short term rental (STR) properties locally, often referred to as vacation homes.

Virtually all communities in Teller County and the lower Ute Pass have been struggling with this issue that has commanded much attention throughout the state and the nation.

During the recent forum, City Attorney Nina Williams and City Management Analyst Rob Felts briefed the council and planning officials on the progress they made regarding a draft ordinance to regulate STRs. The draft ordinance included amendments to the city code concerning business regulations and zoning for  licensing and regulating of short-term rentals. The group reviewed and discussed the draft ordinance, which included a  proposed application process and good neighbor guidelines.

The purpose of the work session was to provide further direction to city staff on drafting an ordinance that could be brought to the planning commission and ultimately to city council.

Issues that the staff is still trying to resolve deal with imposing an overall cap on STR licenses and whether a cap would be city-wide or based on zoning; establishing regulations for non-owner occupied residential zones, certificate of occupancy requirements, the limits on how many licenses a single person can have and liability insurance requirements Plus there is the subject of how to deal with existing licenses that are inconsistent with the new ordinances in multi-family suburban and multi-family urban zones. Other issues of concern deal with self-inspections versus city inspections, city enforcement cost recovery plans and STRs in the Downtown Development Authority district, and licenses pulled but not used.

The discussion among the panel started on whether there should be exemptions for some owner- occupied STRs. Examples were given by some on the panel that they claimed would be a hardship or unfair treatment of these owners. This discussion also triggered whether there should be modified rules for an owner who only rents out a single room versus the whole unit.

Discussion at the meeting then turned to enforcement of STR rules and regulations. This was a hot topic as the city would become  the enforcement entity, under the proposed plan. Therefore, this would require hiring an agent, and this would add to the city’s employment payroll and benefits.

The touchy issue of capping the number of licenses granted was also addressed. The panel discussed the possibility of capping licenses in residential zones but not in commercial zones. Consensus was reached that a cap on licenses in residential zones was appropriate, but not in commercial zones.

They determined the best course of action would be for the city attorney to make amendments to the draft ordinance, and send the amendments to the planning commission. At a work session on September 8, the planning commission will discuss and recommend changes if necessary. The planning commission will review and discuss the revised draft ordinance at their next work session at 6:30 p.m.  in city council chambers. The public is invited to attend.

There are currently 180 STRs in the city, 128 of which are in residential areas.

Other STR Action

Other towns in the area are also grappling with this issue. The town of Green Mountain Falls will address a proposed draft plan for addressing STR guidelines at their August 30 meeting. But unlike Woodland Park, GMF doesn’t have a problem with an overall cap on STR licenses, which is restricted to 60. And already, the town is coming close to reaching an STR saturation point.

But in GMF, some tension exists between long-time residents and STR realtors, resulting in certain  neighborhood disputes.

Cripple Creek, meanwhile, is also in the process of tightening up its STR rules. It would slightly increase the number of STR licenses permitted, but its planned number falls well short of the current vacation home lineup in Woodland Park.

In Cripple Creek, the main issue of concern deals with the STR impacts on the push for affordable housing. Leaders don’t want these new STR properties to further deplete from the already  limited itinerary of workforce housing units. The city has already launched an aggressive incentives effort to attract more development of apartment units and multi-family, affordable housing projects.

They don’t want the advent of  more STRs to clash with these pursuits.