Woodland Park Braces for Another Heated Election

Local Voters to Decide Fate of Short-Term Rental Properties

Trevor Phipps

Welcome to Round Two, in the season of hot elections in Woodland Park.

Whether it is a big national election year or not, the political atmosphere locally always seems to heat up come November. On Nov. 7, the Woodland Park RE-2 School Board races, which decided the majority elected slots on the board panel, were the hot topics of conversation and debate (see related story). But now, a special election, scheduled for next month, is taking center stage, with voters deciding on two competing ballot questions.

Both questions deal with the ongoing saga over how to regulate and handle short-term rental properties, a controversial subject in mountain communities across Colorado. In fact, this topic has been heavily debated in Woodland Park for the last year.

One question has been proposed by a group of citizens who launched a successful petition initiative, while another proposition is being sponsored by the city council.

Earlier this year, a successful citizens’ initiative petition, having to do with where STR businesses should be allowed, forced the city to call a special election. This eventually led to another ballot ordinance, backed by the city council.

The special election, which is separate from any other county, state or federal election, will take place on Dec. 12.

A Lengthy Debate Process

The heated debates started at the end of last year when a group of citizens filed a referendum petition to fight against an STR ordinance the council tried to pass. After the petition was successful, the same group filed a citizens’ initiative petition to put their own STR ordinance up for a vote.

 

The 90-day petition process was deemed successful earlier this year, which gave the council the chance to approve the group’s proposed ordinance or to call for a special election to settle the matter. Last month, the city council voted to send the issue to a special election.

At the same time, they added another ordinance, drafted by council members and the city’s planning commission, to be included on the ballot.

 

So now come Dec. 12, Woodland Park voters will face two ballot questions dealing with STR properties. The ballots got mailed out last Monday, and all Woodland Park registered voters should have them by the end of this week.

Chamber Outlines the Ballot Issues

Earlier this month, the Greater Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce sent out a special election “blue book” that outlined each ballot question in detail. The chamber worked diligently with sponsors of both ordinances to come up with arguments for and against each question.

The booklet started by explaining the laws regarding how both questions made their way onto the ballot. It also explains that by law since the ordinances are conflicting, the question that receives the most “yes” votes will be the one that gets enacted as an ordinance.

 

The first question on the ballot is the citizens’ initiative, which obtained more than 1,300 signatures to force the special election. As the blue book states, voting “yes” on the first question updates the zoning code to only allow “primary residence” or owner-occupied STR businesses in single-family residential zoning districts.

If ballot question #1 passes, “non-primary” or non-owner occupied STRs would be banned in residential neighborhoods and only permitted in commercial zoning districts.

Therefore, STRs would not be allowed in residential neighborhoods. The only exception permitted is if the homeowner lives on the property permanently. In these cases, an individual or family could use a room in their house or a basement as a vacation rental.

The arguments for voting “yes” on the first ballot question, according to the blue book,  is that the citizens’ ordinance “addresses the top concern identified in the city’s STR community engagement process.” This deals with STR businesses being allowed to operate in residentially zoned neighborhoods. The arguments for Ballot Question #1 also state that the “Primary Residence Requirement” is used to define legal STR properties operating in residential zones in “the six most populous cities in Colorado, dating back to 2017, and is also used in the comparably sized, nearby city of Manitou Springs.”

The arguments against the first ballot question, according to the Chamber blue book, point out that the ordinance only addresses Title 18 in the city code and that the city council would have to come up with an ordinance for regulations for legal STR businesses. The opposing arguments also state that the citizens’ proposed ordinance violates the property rights of residents.

“The ordinance prohibits the ability of non-primary residence property owners in Urban and Suburban Residential zones to operate short term rentals,” the arguments against Ballot Question #1 in the blue book states. “This restriction removes most homeowners’ ability to maximize the highest potential rental revenue use for their property.”

 

A vote yes on Ballot Question #2, meanwhile, would update the zoning code and sets regulations “to define short-term rental licensing, operating regulations and license revocations.” If the second ballot question passes, currently licensed STRs will be allowed to continue to operate under the new regulations.

 

The arguments for the second ballot question, according to the chamber blue book, state that the ordinance would set up a process for STR licensing and define regulations. If passed, the ordinance under Ballot Question #2 would set caps on the number of STR licenses operating in residential neighborhoods and grandfather in anyone currently operating an STR.

The arguments against the second ballot question state that it does not address the key concerns identified by the city’s community engagement process. “Any single-family residential home in Woodland Park has the potential to be converted into an out-of-state, investor-owned short-term rental at any time,” the blue book states.

Opponents of the city-sponsored question also argue that the citizens’ proposal (Ballot Question 1), is a better option because it is aimed at preserving the character of the city’s neighborhoods. “(Allowing STRs in residential neighborhoods) continues to stress our workforce housing supply with many potential homes for families operated as Short-Term Rentals instead,” the arguments against Ballot Question #2 state.

To view the entire blue book, visit https://www.woodlandparkchamber.com/blue-book-for-special-wp-city-election-2023.