Short-Term Rental Fight Continues In Woodland Park

Conflict of Interest Allegations Raised Against Several Council Members

Trevor Phipps

The topic of short-term rentals once again hit the forefront of last week’s Woodland Park City Council meeting, sparking a lengthy discussion with no shortage of public comments.

However, this time no council walkouts transpired and a calmer, more civil atmosphere prevailed. But at the same time, the touchy subject of a definite conflict of interest among certain members took center stage.

The topic of regulating short-term rentals, though, did dominate basically the entire three-hour long session. More than 20 people signed up to comment on the touchy subject that has generated much controversy in many communities across the state.

There were three items on the agenda last week that all dealt with short-term rental regulations. The planning director presented the ordinance for initial posting, which was tabled from the previous meeting but without the former amendments.

The issue to continue the moratorium on issuing STR licensing until 2023 also came up. Councilmembers Robert Zuluaga and David Ott also presented a long list of definitions and information pertaining to short-term rentals.

When the ordinance to regulate STRs came up on the agenda, Mayor Hilary LaBarre elected to have the council discuss the issue before opening it up to public comment. The council then proposed several amendments to the proposed ordinance that were different than the amendments proposed at a previous meeting.

The amendments would then be put into the ordinance when it comes up for a public hearing.

Public Debates STR Ban and Conflict of Interest Allegations

The public was then given the floor on the topic. Once again, many residents outlined why STRs should not be banned within the city’s residential zones. This was one idea proposed previously by the city. Other speakers, meanwhile, questioned the potential conflict of interest with certain council members.

Woodland Park resident Matt Evens said that he understands some concerns people have with short- term rentals, but he believes this would be a start for more government regulations. “The main problem that I see here is that more regulations of how a property owner uses their residential property could have a domino effect on other regulations in the future,” the resident said. “For example, today we complain about short-term rentals, 10 years down the road, the same argument will be made about long term rentals, after that it will be my neighbor’s garage makes too much noise. Actions speak louder than words and we are paying attention. As much as I would like the convenience of not hearing people partying or having overcrowded streets next door, I have fallen back on the principles I believe in which is having limited government control. If you want future generations to be free this is paramount.”

Resident Sara Ray said that her family has invested around $400,000 on a non-owner occupied STR and they own an owner-occupied STR as well. “We love this community and in order to afford to live here we have always rented out a portion of our home,” the resident said. “As such it has allowed us to work the nonprofit jobs that we love, but the nonprofit salaries we don’t love as much. We depend on our short term rentals for our livelihood. If that were to be taken away overnight or even in the next couple of years, we would be out so much money that we would probably go bankrupt as a family.”

Some residents, meanwhile, argued that certain council members should recuse themselves due to conflicts of interest, a subject that has come up in previous discussions. Resident Francis Snell said that she is against STRs. She also wanted to speak to the fact that some council members have money to lose if STRs get banned.

“Councilmember Rusty Neal, Mayor Pro Tem Kellie Case, and Mayor Hilary LaBarre all serve to make money off these STRs,” Snell said. “Council member Neal filled out an application to turn his house into an STR. And Mayor Pro Tem (Kellie) Case works with Mayor LaBarre, and they have admitted that they have STRs that go through their office. When you have a conflict of interest like that you have broken the law if you don’t recuse yourself like you are supposed to. We need a city council that is going to agree to actually honor the oaths they have taken and follow the law and that is not what is going on here.”

Former Councilwoman  Stephanie Alfieri also took the floor during public comment and agreed with Snell. She maintained that there is a definite conflict of interest present with this situation. Alfieri said that she is opposed to a ban on STRs, but she felt she needed to speak about the potential conflicts of interest among certain members of the city council.

“There are some serious conflicts of interest that we have going on with this council,” Alfieri said. “In April, many of you supported restrictions to municipal code for conflicts of interest. The citizens voted for it and many of you supported it. The municipal code now includes husbands and other relatives. There are a number of you on council that have a clear conflict of interest on this topic that should have recused yourself and have not.”

At the end of the meeting, Mayor LaBarre said during her report that she does not own any STRs and neither does her husband or father-in-law. Councilmember Neal said that he has since removed his STR application after learning it could be a conflict of interest.

During the next council meeting, the council will vote on the ordinance to regulate STRs and whether or not to extend the moratorium.