STR War In Woodland Park Enters New Battlefield

One of the leaders of the movement to ban short term rental properties in residential neighborhoods resident Arnie Sparnins addresses city council. Photo By Trevor Phipps

Council Debates Next Steps and Outlines Legal and Fiscal Hurdles

Trevor Phipps

Even though a group of community members won a small battle in the fight against the short-term rental invasion in residential areas in Woodland Park, the STR war still rages on.

Last week, the Woodland Park City Council fought the latest battle between themselves at a work session designed to figure out what the next steps the city will take in regulating STRs.

The council passed an ordinance late last year that created an application process for STR properties and allowed them in most zones in the city. The ordinance was then repealed last month after a group of citizens successfully completed a referendum initiative against the ordinance.

During the work session, council members went back and forth in discussing the consequences of potentially banning certain types of STRs in residential neighborhoods. Overall the council agreed that they needed more information about STR properties regarding whether or not each property was owner-occupied or not, and where the owner of the property lived.

To kick off the meeting, City Manager Michael Lawson gave some information about how many STRs were located in the city, and how many properties would be affected if the council chose to ban STRs in residential neighborhoods. The city manager also projected the potential loss of funds to the city in lodging and sales tax revenues if the current STRs in the city get banned.

Lawson showed data saying that STRs in residential neighborhoods make up about 86 percent of the current STR properties at 139 out of 162. According to the data, the city would lose nearly $250,000 of its revenue in lodging taxes and almost $180,000 in sales tax revenue if STRs were banned in residentially zoned districts.

The data then prompted questions as to how many of these properties were owner-occupied, as the movement from certain anti-STR community members seeks to only ban non-owner-occupied rentals. Lawson said that it would take some time to come up with another application for STR owners that would specify more details of their STR business.

One opinion that was brought up was the fact that if the city chooses to ban STRs, it could qualify as a regulatory takeover of a person’s home or business. Therefore, any affected citizen/property owner could file a regulatory takeover lawsuit against the city, which would then have to be paid by the taxpayers of Woodland Park.

The council also debated the issue of whether or not having an STR was a property right. Some elected leaders said that since it is a gray area and not technically allowed in the city, that it is not a property right to have an STR. Others argued that since it is not defined, banning STRs would be taking away something that is currently allowed and leave the possibility for lawsuits against the city.

In the end, Mayor Hilary LaBarre told the planning commission that the council would not be able to direct them right away. She said that the council needed more information about STRs, including if they are owner-occupied, or if they are non-owner occupied and if the owner’s primary residence is in Woodland Park. In addition, there is the question of whether they are Woodland Park citizens. Once more information gets received, the council will then be able to make recommendations to the planning commission.

Lawson explained to council that the moratorium on STR business licenses ends in June and he was not sure if the process could get completed by then. He told council that they need to think about extending the moratorium, and consider how long they want to extend it.

During the work session, public comment was not allowed, but the mayor told residents present at the forum that they were welcome to comment during the regular council meeting.

STR Concerns Voiced at Council Meeting

Not surprisingly, a few citizens took this opportunity during the regular council meeting, which followed the work session.

Resident Mary Sekowski said she met with the Protecting Residential Property Rights group who opposed the last STR ordinance, and found some common ground. She also brought up the fact that survey results showed that 64 out of the over 300 surveys turned in by residents said that they weren’t concerned at all about STRs in the city.

Resident Arnie Sparnins pointed out that the number one concern about STRs was community character. He also said that the second and third concerns on the surveys were noise and partying, and traffic and parking.

Sparnins mentioned that the words “regulatory takeover” were used several times during the work session and that he thought they should have the city attorney draft up a report on the legal consequences of banning STRs in residential neighborhoods. “I request that the city council limit the conversation about STRs to really discussing policy,” Sparnins said. “I heard a lot of casual tossing around of legal threats and scare tactics. Go back and review the video and count how many times the terms ‘regulatory taking’ was used.”

Resident Jerry Penland took the floor and questioned why there were nine “technical experts” on the planning commission. He said that the number of people on the commission should be reduced if the council is only going to approve people with experience in planning and not allow other community members on the commission.

“Why do we have a problem here in Woodland Park keeping our volunteer committees and boards filled when we have volunteers who want to serve?” Penland asked.