Woodland Park’s Short-Term Rental Battle Continues

Plans for Cell Tower Near Woodland Aquatic Center Get Approved

Trevor Phipps

The STR (short-term rental property) soap opera just won’t end  in Woodland Park.

During just about every council meeting, the controversy is brought up with people on both sides of the fight refusing to back down on their stance.

Last week, the Woodland Park City Council held a special work session to discuss what the elected leaders plan to do in terms of regulating STRs. The meeting was organized after a group of citizens filed a citizens’ initiative petition recently, with the goal of  putting  the issue of banning non-owner occupied STRs in residential neighborhoods on the ballot.

However, instead of discussing the proposed ordinance by the group of citizens, the council entertained the idea of implementing a similar ordinance that was repealed by the same group a few months ago.  This could set the stage for the citizens’ group to proceed with their newest initiative effort. And based on the group’s past track record, they would have a good chance of succeeding in getting an initiative placed on the ballot, and forcing a special election.

Late last year, the Woodland Park Planning Commission drafted an ordinance for council to consider that would essentially define the rules and regulations for STRs, establish an STR license, and put a cap on the number of STR businesses allowed in the city.

When the planning commission’s ordinance was first brought to council, several issues were raised.

Former Councilman David Ott then suggested an amendment to the ordinance coined the “Wild West ordinance” that would allow an unlimited number STRs in most neighborhoods until the city could conduct a study and receive more information.

The ordinance, proposed by Ott, was then repealed after the group of citizens successfully filed a referendum petition and received enough valid signatures from registered voters.  The council now plans to go back to the original ordinance surrounding STRs that was recommended by the planning commission.

Carrol Harvey, a veteran council member and former planning commissioner, proposed that the council should consider possibly make some changes to the ordinance initially recommended by the planning commission. “I would say that the product the planning commission provided went a long way in acknowledging the total community’s input, not just any particular group that may have been against short-term rentals at all or any group that felt that they were damaging to community character,” Harvey said. “But all of those things were certainly considered in our deliberations within the planning commission.”

Council member Kellie Case pointed out some changes she thought should be brought up, if the ordinance got sent back to the planning commission. She proposed updating the number the maximum number of STRs allowed, and to permit additional dwelling units to be used as STRs.

Councilman Robert Zuluaga, though, brought up the fact that the ordinance would clash with what the citizens’ group of citizens has strived to achieve with their petition efforts. “Our community is talking to us,” Zuluaga said. “They have already said, ‘council, for the first time in history of Woodland Park, we don’t agree with you and we don’t agree with you so strongly that, here is over 800 signatures.’ They don’t need too many more than that to make it a ballot issue.”

At the end of the work session, the council reached a consensus with five members’ agreeing  to send the original ordinance back to the planning commission for more changes.   Zuluaga and Councilman Frank Connors were the only two on the dais that disagreed.

But because last week’s session was a workshop, no formal vote occurred.

Still, the discussion prompted more lively STR commentary at the regular meeting, which followed last week’s workshop.

During the regularly scheduled council meeting, Jerry Penland, a key leader of the citizens’ group, one warned the elected leaders to reconsider passing a revised version of the previous ordinance. “I talked to several hundred people and nobody I talked to wanted to lower caps,” Penland stated. “Caps are simply unacceptable. If you bring back and rehash 1431, that has caps in it, we will probably simply repeal it again. Or you can send that part to a special election and we will probably win the special election.”

60 Foot Cell Tower Approved

The council also took final action on plans for okaying a 60-foot cell phone tower, proposed by Verizon.

When the subject came up on the agenda to approve the Verizon cell tower on the Woodland Aquatic Center property, resident Jim French questioned the city about having pollution insurance that would cover any issues created by the tower. He said that Verizon’s insurance would not cover any potential pollution caused by the electromagnetic waves put out by the cell tower.

“Cell phone companies define electromagnetic fields as a pollutant and they will not cover damages,” French said. “Since neither the city nor Verizon is able to obtain the proper pollution insurance from third party companies, Verizon will attempt to offer other forms of insurance without a pollution clause.”

City Attorney Nina Williams said that she was not sure if the insurance covered pollution. Kelly Harrison who represents Verizon said she also did not know about their being a provision in the insurance for pollution.

But Williams said that lawsuits against cities for pollution caused by cell towers have not been common. She said that the city would not have to be concerned about potential lawsuits related to pollution caused by the cell tower.

Council voted to approve the tower with a 5-2 vote with Connors and Zuluaga voting “no.”