Residents Win Temporary Battle to Halt Pro-STR Law in Woodland Park

Mascot ‘Lili’ at the drop-in petition signing center. Lili’s message was “we need every signature we can get to keep strange dogs out of her neighborhood.” Photo submitted by Arnie Sparnins

Group Collects More than 900 Signatures From Local Voters

Trevor Phipps

 A group of local residential property owners in Woodland Park have cleared their first major hurdle in an ambitious referendum campaign, aimed at halting a pro-short-term rental (STR) licensing law passed by elected leaders in late 2022.

It marks the first referendum petition, filed against an action taken by the WP Council in nearly two decades. The last time this type of referendum occurred was during the earlier Walmart development fight in 2005.

As a result, the future of licensing STR units in residential neighborhoods in Woodland Park could become illegal, if the signatures are verified.

The target number of  signatures was 714,  and at the end of their deadline last Tuesday, there were nearly 200 more  signatures turned in than necessary from registered voters.

The first two photos are from the snowy morning today (12/29) – two vehicles parked overnight on the street at the base of the driveway for a short-term rental. They obstructed the snowplow from completely clearing the road. Not a life-threatening situation, but representative of many nitpicky irritations of how STRs don’t fit in residential neighborhoods. If these were actual neighbors, not strangers lodging here for a few days, others in neighborhood would have already helped. Photo submitted by Arnie Sparnins

The push for signatures started in late November when nine citizens submitted letters of intent to attempt to repeal the last ordinance passed by the council, which would have set up a process to license short-term rentals under certain guidelines.  The ordinance passed allowed STRs in most residential neighborhoods for the next 12 to 18 months, so that the city could conduct an economic impact study.

The group, calling themselves Protecting Residents Property Rights (PRPR), started an intense campaign to collect signatures once the petition was approved in November. Due to city laws, the team only had 30 days to get 714 signatures, which was 10 percent of the number of registered voters within the city.

According to the group’s leader, Jerry Penland, a former member of the planning commission, the originally had a goal of 1,000 signatures or more. But, since the 30-day period fell into the holiday season and the area was struck with snowy weather and frigid temperatures, this goal was not quite achieved.

However, by the end of the day on the deadline Dec. 27, the group submitted 906 signatures on the petition to repeal the STR ordinance. If the group had not submitted at least 714 signatures to be reviewed, the ordinance would have taken effect on the Dec. 27

The group submitted a press release last week applauding the fact that the ordinance would not take effect in 2022. But, the repeal will not be official until the city clerk’s office verifies all of the signatures.

During most situations when there is a recall or referendum petition most experts say that a good margin of error is needed. Like with the recall of the Woodland Park school board last summer, a number of signatures get rejected for various legal reasons.

The clerk’s office now has 30 days from Dec. 27, to go through the process to verify the signatures and make sure that everyone who signed the petition was an eligible voter of Woodland Park. If the clerk verifies at least 714 signatures, then the ordinance will stay suspended until the issue goes back in front of city council.

The council will then have two choices on what to do. First, the council could vote to repeal the ordinance which would then send the issue back to the planning commission and they would have to start from scratch to draft a new ordinance.

Or, the council could choose not to vote to repeal the ordinance, which would send it to a vote of the citizens of Woodland Park. The city would most likely have to hold a special election and then the citizens would vote on whether or not the ordinance got repealed or was able to take effect.

The PRPR group has spoken up against the way the council passed the ordinance. In their press release, the group said that the council did an “180 degree pivot” from the original ordinance that was written after the community engagement process and the planning commission’s recommendations.

“Who would have thought in these times that everyone characterizes as so divisive, there would be an issue that could draw so many diverse people together?” Penland asked. “Almost every resident in our community agrees the ’Wild West’ STR Ordinance is bad for their neighborhood. The biggest challenge we needed to overcome was letting people know where they could sign the petition, not having to convince them of the why. This overwhelming response is a clear message to our City leadership that Woodland Park residents do not think commercial lodging businesses belong in residential neighborhoods.”

Penland said that even though the group of a few dozen petitioners did not reach the goal of 1,000 signatures, he was happy with the number they were able to submit, despite the circumstances.

“The number of days we were able to work was 18 and a half days, Penland said. “And we got 906. That’s 48.75 or about 50 a day. If we didn’t lose days from weather and holidays, we would have got over 1,000. If we did this in the spring and we had 90 days to do this we would have got 1,500 to 2,000 without even trying.”