Second Anti-STR Petition Effort May Force a Special Election
After a long-term effort to ban non-owner occupied short term rentals (STRs) within local residential neighborhoods, the efforts of the group called “Preserving Neighborhood Character in Woodland Park” have apparently leaped another surmountable hurdle.
The group had 90 days to collect signatures for their latest citizen’s initiative ordinance. They easily reached this goal, securing well more than the necessary autographs from WP citizens, and then got close to 500 extra signatures as an extra cushion and to send a further message to the Woodland Park City Council.
Back in May, the group launched its second attempt at preventing the council from passing an STR ordinance that would allow all types of STR businesses in most zoning districts within the city. This time around, the group aimed to get their own ordinance either passed by city council or brought to an election to be decided by voters.
Based on current petition guidelines, the group needed 1,018 verified signatures to either send the ordinance to council for formal adoption, or have the issue decided by a special election. According to one of the group’s main organizers, Jerry Penland, the group turned in 1,438 petitions with notarized signatures by the August 21 deadline.
The city clerk’s office now has 30 days from Aug. 21 to validate all of the signatures. There is also a 40 day period where anyone can come forward and protest the process in which the signatures were collected.
If at least 1,018 signatures get validated and there are no valid protest efforts, the issue will be brought to council in October. The council will then be tasked with a vote to adopt the citizens’ ordinance as proposed, or to send the issue to a special election in November. The latter avenue would cost the city more than $20,000.
Penland expressed much confidence that the group secured more than enough signatures to have their initiative declared as successful.
“My guess is that we are going to have over 1,300 signatures validated based on the validation process last time,” Penland said, in a recent interview with TMJ News. “In my opinion, there is no question that the citizens’ initiative petition was successful.”
The city already put in place another ordinance that places caps on STR businesses in residential neighborhoods that is slated to go to public hearing during the first council meeting in October. However, in reality, that ordinance started down the public hearing stage, just in case the Preserving Neighborhood initiative efforts were unsuccessful.
If the petition effort obtains enough valid signatures from registered voters, the planning commission and council’s new STR ordinance 1455 may not be discussed. But, the city could also decide to enact or change the new ordinance if enough signatures do not get validated.
And even if the signatures get validated and the petitions are successful, the group’s battle will not be over. “I think they (the city council) want to have a competing ordinance to go with our special election to try to confuse everybody,” Penland said. “But there won’t be any confusion. In the meantime, we don’t really want the city council to pass our ordinance. We want it to go to a special election to show the world what the Woodland Park citizens by a majority vote want to do.”
Backlash from Elected Leaders
Penland said that the group has experienced major backlash from the council and key city officials since they started their efforts at the end of 2022.
Their first action was to file a referendum that preventing Ordinance 1431 (a pro-STR measure, approved by the council) from getting voted into law by the council.
During the referendum, the group only had 30 days to collect just over 700 signatures. The group was able to meet the goal by collecting more 800 signatures that got validated by the city clerk. This successful effort stunned some city officials, including former City Manager Michael Lawson. It actually marked the first successful referendum against a proposed city ordinance in recent history, even surpassing the efforts of a previous group that fought landing a new Walmart in Woodland Park.
After the group collected enough signatures to repeal the ordinance, they then pushed council to enact a proposed law that did not allow non-owner occupied STRs in residentially zoned neighborhoods. But after a few council meetings, they didn’t believe that the council supported their position and favored having STRs in residential neighborhoods under a number of guidelines.
After the newest citizens’ initiative started, council members sent the original STR ordinance back to the planning commission for it to be rewritten in a way that the elected leaders could favor. The new ordinance changed some of the original language of 1431 and lowered the caps on STRs in residential neighborhoods.
The Preserving Neighborhood Character group, though, definitely has some critics.
Many who oppose the efforts of the group have said that their new initiative measure violates citizens’ property rights. Some have even labeled the group as being “anti-STR” and that outlawing STR businesses in the city could hurt local businesses.
However, Penland said that his group never has been completely “anti-STR.” He pointed out that the group’s ordinance does allow owner-occupied or “mom and pop” STR businesses in all zones including residential neighborhoods.
Penland said that the group has also stood up for local businesses by saying that STRs should be in commercially zoned districts where they are closer to restaurants and other businesses. The group has said that they have no issue with STRs in commercial districts, they just don’t want them to continue to ruin the character of residential neighborhoods within the city.
In the near future, Woodland Park residents will learn if they have to vote on this issue in November, or if the council will accept the group’s proposal and outlaw STRs in Woodland Park. Most political insiders are predicting that a city vote will eventually occur on this issue.