Welcome to Round Two In Battle Against STRs in Woodland Park

Citizens Seek to Ban Short-Term Rentals in Residential Neighborhoods

Trevor Phipps

Over the last year, the controversy surrounding short-term rentals (STRs) has hijacked many local council meetings.

Just when Woodland Park residents were starting to see a temporary reprieve from long council meetings with public comment sessions featuring an endless volley of STR comments and forums that nearly extended until the morning sunrise, the battle elevated to another level last week.

Last week, a group called Preserving Neighborhood Character in Woodland Park, Inc., completed the process for a citizens’ initiative petition to clarify the city’s Title 18 zoning laws pertaining to where short term rentals will be allowed. The organization now has 90 days (from May 23 or until August 21)  to obtain 1,018 verified signatures from registered voters of Woodland Park.  This would represent  15 percent of the city’s eligible voters, and is the minimum threshold for an initiative to go to a vote.

The group has already had much success in getting support for a previous referendum that halted the city in its efforts to okay a pro-STR ordinance.

The main purpose of the group’s latest move is to get a new ordinance they drafted, pertaining to STRs, on the ballot for a special election. According former planning commissioner Jerry Penland,  one of the group main leaders,  the goal is not an outright ban on STRs within the city.

The proposed ordinance does though specify which neighborhood zones will allow certain types of STR businesses. The ordinance will allow “owner-occupied” or primary residence STR businesses defined by STRs where the owner resides at the property the majority of the year in every neighborhood within the city.

However, the ordinance does attempt to outlaw non-primary residence short term rental units (non-owner occupied) in single family residential and urban residential zones. If passed, the ordinance would still allow non-owner occupied STRs in commercially zoned areas of the city.

The action made last week marked the second time the same group filed a petition. The first time occurred late last year when the group filed a referendum petition to force the council to repeal its  1431 ordinance. This action would have allowed STR businesses to exist in nearly every neighborhood in Woodland Park.

The group was able to get more than 800 signatures verified, which made the referendum initiative successful. In fact, it marked the first successful citizens’ referendum in recent history in Woodland Park, even topping the efforts of an ambitious local group that tried to stop a Walmart superstore from landing in town. The issue then went back to council, and they had the choice to repeal the ordinance or send it to a vote in a special election. At that point, the council chose to repeal 1431.

Disappointment in Lack of Council Action

According to Penland, the group then hoped that the council would take some type of action to change the ordinance to not allow STRs owned by people who live outside of the city in residential neighborhoods. “They repealed ordinance 1431 like we asked them to and we waited for them to support us,” Penland explained. “And we waited for over two months. And since they were clearly not going down a path to support us we started what is called a citizen initiative which is 15 percent instead of 10 percent for the number of registered voters required.”

Penland said that he and his fellow group members are confident that they can get more signatures than they did last time to support their proposed ordinance. “But instead of having 30 days, we have 90 days to get the signatures,” Penland stated. “In 18 and a half working days we got 837 validated signatures of voters in Woodland Park. So, we know that we can get 1,018 in 90 days and we have already started.”

He said that the petitioners started canvassing neighborhoods last week. The group will also have an office (Room 106C) in the Woodland Park Professional Building located at the intersection of Hwy. 24 and West Street in downtown Woodland Park where residents can go to sign the petition.

The office, which started last week, will be open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Saturdays 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. until the petition’s deadline on Aug. 21. Penland also said that the group will be sending people to walk around every neighborhood in the city over the next two and a half months, something they didn’t have time to do for the last petition.

If the petition is successful, the ordinance will be sent to a special election this November and the city will have to pay for it. But Penland did say that the group is not necessarily wanting the city to be forced to spend the money on a special election.

Penland said that ideally the council will  vote to implement the group’s ordinance, without sending the matter to a vote of the people. But if council does not choose to vote the group’s proposal into law before November, the city will be forced to fund a special election. If that vote  occurs, Penland believes the Preserving Neighborhood Character organization will prevail.

This week council will be holding a work session before their regularly scheduled meeting to discuss another try at an STR ordinance.

But Penland said that if council votes in an ordinance that is similar to 1431, or any one that involves allowing all STRs in residential neighborhoods, the group will proceed with its anti-STR initiative campaign.