Council Finalizes Action to Place Two STR Issues on December Ballot
Just when everyone thought the heated debate surrounding short-term rentals (STRs) was coming to an end and couldn’t get more confusing.
The topic, which has been debated in Woodland Park for the last year, capped discussion at a recent council meeting.
But now, it appears that the voters will have the final say.
The council recently grappled with five items, dealing with STRs, and what exactly would appear on the ballot during a special election set for December 12. Basically, the council firmed up what was debated during a previous workshop forum.
In any case, voters will finally decide the fate of the STR issue.
The council, at a recent meeting, voted to put two measures on the ballot related to STRs, finalizing what was previously discussed. One was the ordinance that was proposed by citizens that forced the special election; and the other measure was drafted by the city council, and marks an adjustment to what city officials earlier proposed when the STR issue hit center stage months ago.
Both of the measures on the ballot will set a precedence in the city by defining STR properties and setting up a licensing process. They both outline where STRs will be allowed in the given zones within the city.
However, the main difference is that the citizens’ initiative will not allow non-owner occupied STRs inside residentially zoned neighborhoods. Ordinance 1462, which was recently put on the same ballot by the council, would allow non-owner occupied STRs in neighborhoods zoned for single family residential homes. However, it caps the number of licenses issued.
The first item on the agenda was an emergency ordinance forced by the citizens’ initiative petition to adopt the citizens’ ordinance. But as previously discussed at a workshop, the council voted “no” on the emergency ordinance. By law, this forces a special election on the issue.
During the discussion, it was brought up by council that the citizens did not want the council to approve the ordinance, and instead they sought a special election. Councilman Rusty Neal brought up the fact that even if the council passed the measure, the group could file a citizens’ referendum petition to block it from becoming a law and send it to a special election anyway.
During the public comment section, several people spoke out in favor of the citizens’ ordinance. Woodland Park resident Mike Nakai, who supports the citizens’ ordinance, explained to city council why the group didn’t want the council to pass the ordinance.
“I would suspect that the reason why the group of petitioners do not want you to pass Ordinance 1461 tonight is probably because they don’t trust you to not just change it a month from now,” Nakai said. “Because if it is put on the ballot and voted in, you can’t change it for two years.”
Others spoke up during public comment and told council that regulating STRs was a better solution to the issue than banning them. Residents voiced concerns about citizens losing a large amount of income and businesses suffering from reduced tourism.
During their official vote, the emergency ordinance to pass the law proposed by citizens was denied unanimously. But the council then passed a resolution officially announcing the special election for December 12, and officially placing the citizens’ initiative on the ballot.
During the discussion, the language of the ballot question was changed to reflect exactly what is stated in the proposed ordinance.
The council also opted to put Ordinance 1462 on the ballot as well as the citizens’ ordinance. This one is a measure proposed by the city council. The ordinance was based on a previous city proposal, which placed a maximum of 42 STRs in single family residential (SR) neighborhoods and 28 STRs in urban residential (UR) zones and set regulations for STRs.
The new ordinance added some regulations, but did not change the fact that it would indefinitely allow non-owner occupied STRs in all neighborhoods. During the vote, Mayor Hilary LaBarre, Mayor Pro Tem Kellie Case, council members Rusty Neal and Carrol Harvey voted while Council Members Robert Zuluaga, Frank Connors and Catherine Nakai voted “no.”
In another STR issue, the council extended the moratorium for issuing STR business licenses. The council voted unanimously to extend the moratorium to April 1, 2024 in order to determine the outcome of the special election.
Resident Arnie Sparnins, who has spoken in favor of the citizens’ initiative at several council meetings and helped lead the successful petition drive, was happy with the unanimous decision to extend the STR moratorium. “It was a refreshing end to see city council to do the right thing on a topic, acting quickly and decisively,” Sparnins said.
So, for now, the debate regarding STRs will take a temporary time-out until the December vote.