Petitioners Temporarily Halt Law To Permit Vacation Homes In Residential Areas
It’s now official: A group of petitioners have succeeded in stopping an ordinance passed by the Woodland Park City Council, dealing with the heated issue of opening the door for short-term rentals in local neighborhoods under certain guidelines.
The effort was the first of its kind since Walmart came into the city. But more importantly, it marks possibly the first ever successful referendum initiative in recent history.
Woodland Park has featured scores of citizen petition drives, but few of them garner an adequate number of signatures from registered voters, a process that requires much scrutiny to reach the next approval level.
Woodland Park city clerk officials confirmed last week that they have verified enough signatures on the referendum petition to bring the issue of repealing the council’s Ordinance 1431. The issue goes back to the council, which may refer it to the voters or start the process all over again. In the end, the city verified 837 signatures and they disqualified 69. The petitioners only needed 714 to move the efforts to the next step.
The small number of signatures tossed out is extremely rare, as most petition efforts result in a third or more of the autographs getting thrown out.
During a city council meeting on Nov. 17, the city passed ordinance 1431 to amend titles 5 and 18 of the Woodland Park Municipal Code to license and regulate short term rentals inside the city. Then on Nov. 29, the city received nine letters of intent from residents who were interested in filing a referendum petition for the ordinance.
Per law, the petitioners had 30 days to collect 714 signatures which was ruled to be 10 percent of the registered voters within the city. On Dec. 27, the city clerk’s office received the petition back from the registered citizen committee calling themselves Protecting Residential Property Rights with 906 signatures.
By law, there is a 40-day window for members of the public to protest any part of the referendum process. Since the process started on Dec. 27, the protest period will officially end at the end of the business day on Feb. 6.
Over the next week, anyone who chooses to protest the referendum must submit a protest in writing under oath. People can protest signatures that were validated, signatures that were disqualified, or any other part of the process.
Once the protest period closes, anyone who had protests with the process will be able to schedule a hearing with the city clerk’s office. If there are no protests that prove to be viable, the city will move forward with the referendum process after Feb. 6.
The issue is set to appear on the city council’s agenda during their regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. At the meeting the city will have the option to repeal the ordinance which would send it back to the planning commission.
Or, they can refuse which would send the issue to a vote of the public during a special election that the city would have to pay for.
Next Steps After the Council’s Decision
But according to one of the leaders of the Protecting Residential Property Rights committee, Jerry Penland, the issue is far from being over. The group gave a decision tree to council members outlining the steps that can be taken by the city in the future.
This process can get pretty complicated, and sets the stage for possibly an election to determine the issue.
Penland explained that either option the council takes next month could have the same outcome. “Whether we get the repeal or not, all it does is keep the ordinance in place which gives the city away or it repeals it which gives the city away,” Penland explained. “The only thing they can do that we would agree with is to repeal it and send it back to the planning commission to take another look at it.”
Penland said that the city could repeal the ordinance which would put Woodland Park’s STR laws back the way they were before any work was conducted to try to change them. He also said that the planning commission could choose to do nothing, and then the city will be back in the same situation it has been before making an ordinance to regulate STRs came up.
Penland said that either of these actions taken by city officials would prompt the group of citizens to petition for a citizen’s initiative to put the idea of banning non-owner occupied STRs in residentially zoned neighborhoods on the ballot to be decided by voters.
And since the group successfully got over 800 signatures in 30 days, they are confident that they could get enough signatures to get it on the ballot and win the vote.
“If it gets sent to a citizen’s initiative, that’s ok with us,” Penland said. “837 votes are two thirds of the votes you need to win any election in the city of Woodland Park’s history. These are not just signatures anymore, they are voters that are with us to do what we want to do.”
The last election had a record turnout with 2,500 votes during an election. The group is confident that they can get enough votes to pass their own ordinance in another election.
Penland explained that the best case scenario in the eyes of the Protecting Residential Property Rights group, is that city officials send an ordinance that the group has written surrounding STRs to the planning commission. The planning commission and city council could then fine tune the ordinance and make small changes without prompting any more action from the group of petitioners.
If the city chooses to not adopt an ordinance to ban non-owner occupied STRs in residential neighborhoods, the group will then start the petition process to put the issue on the ballot.