Woodland Park’s Short-term Rental Saga Enters Round 20

Latest Ordinance Outlines New STR Rules and Limits; City Vote on Heated Issue Likely

 Trevor Phipps

The saga of whether or not short-term rentals (STRs) should be allowed in residential neighborhoods in Woodland Park just won’t end, with the issue possibly setting a record for the number of proposals submitted.

A few weeks ago, a group of Woodland Park residents launched a citizens initiative to put an ordinance, calling for banning non-owner occupied STRs in residential zones, on the ballot for a possible special election.

While the group works to collect signatures, the council has basically rejected their latest proposal.  Instead, they sent the issue back to the planning commission for further review. The majority of the council has said that they want a more compromising ordinance, which doesn’t force people to lose out on their STR investments.

Last week, the planning commission redrafted their original ordinance that placed caps on STRs and changed some of the language. They attempted to fix the problems council members originally had with the ordinance they recommended.

In the end, the planning commission voted unanimously (5-0) to approve the new STR ordinance. The ordinance will be sent to council for initial posting during their next meeting this Thursday and then if approved, it will be on the agenda for public hearing during the council meeting on July 20.

Late last year, the planning commission introduced Ordinance 1431 that would establish an STR licensing system and set rules for STR properties within the city. Once the ordinance got to the city council it was changed.

The council ended up getting rid of the caps placed on STRs in the ordinance and wanted to allow STRs in most neighborhoods in the city for a period of 12 to 18 months so that officials could collect more information. However as soon as the ordinance was passed, a group of citizens launched a referendum petition.

The group was able to get enough signatures to send the ordinance back to council to either repeal it or send it to a special election. The council chose to repeal the ordinance.

After the ordinance was repealed, the same group of citizens attempted to get council to pass an ordinance that they had drafted that would essentially ban non-owner occupied STRs in residential neighborhoods. But after seeing that council was not going to go along with what they wanted, they decided to start another petition process.

After the petitions started circulating, members of the council decided to take another look at the original ordinance that was recommended by the planning commission last year initially, which called for more limits than the package they approved.

New Ordinance Places Caps and Rules on STRs

The ordinance under review now sets up a licensing process and then establishes more defined rules.  If passed, the ordinance will also establish a process where licenses can be revoked if a property receives enough violations.

The new ordinance also establishes caps on short-term rental properties in residentially zoned neighborhoods. The caps, which will be based on a percentage of homes, will allow for a current STR property owner to keep operating their business. In addition, it will allow for more STRs to come into residential areas under certain conditions.

The ordinance will also not put any caps on STRs in commercially zoned districts. The proposed STR caps in residential neighborhoods, though, will not apply to owner-occupied STR properties.

During the public comment section of the meeting a few people spoke out against the ordinance. But others claimed that the anti-STR speakers were using false statements to justify their stance.

One of the leaders of the group passing petitions to ban non-owner occupied STRs in residential neighborhoods, Jerry Penland, has said before that the group will work to repeal the ordinance if passed by council. Penland told the planning commission last week that their latest proposal is still not acceptable because  it allows any STRs in residential neighborhoods.

“Having lodging businesses in our residential neighborhoods is not why we live in this beautiful city,” Penland said. “We want to live with neighbors in our neighborhoods. Is that too much to ask?”

Resident Deanne Bettermann also spoke about how several citizens do not want STRs in residential neighborhoods. “If you have strangers coming into your neighborhood every three nights, you can’t let your kids play by themselves out in your fenced in yard,” Bettermann said. “I think that is the worst-case scenario and I don’t know how Chief Deisler is going to monitor any of that. And that destroys the fabric of our community.”

Resident Mary Sekowski (who has spoken several times at council meetings) praised the efforts of the planning commission for coming up with the new ordinance and criticized the comments made by Bettermann.

“If you are worried about strangers being next door, don’t go to the parks or commercial stores because you are surrounded by strangers and your kids are surrounded by strangers,” Sekowski said. “So those arguments sadly are just ludicrous. And I hope the planning commission will dismiss them as not important in this discussion.”

The issue will return to city council this month and the majority seems to be supportive of the measure. However, Council Member Frank Connors disagrees with several of his fellow councilmembers and believes that the ordinance goes against the desires of the large group of residents supporting the  newest anti-STR citizen initiative petition.

“They are circumventing the will of the people and they are doing it to benefit themselves,” Connors said of his colleagues supporting the measure.