Steamboat Springs Before a rapt audience, City Council decided Monday night to allow short-term vacation home rentals throughout the city, while adding some restrictions on the long-accepted practice.
After discussing the intricacies of what was likely the most eagerly-anticipated item in the city's new Community Development Code, council voted 4 to 2 to adopt the planning department's recommended motion with a few changes. Councilmen Ken Brenner and Jim Engelken objected to the motion, in part because it did not prohibit the practice in certain areas of the city.
"My feeling was there are certain places in the city where nightly rentals are appropriate and others where they are not appropriate," Engelken said.
Council never considered prohibiting the short-term rentals outright, focusing its debate primarily on whether the city should establish a zone outside of which the rentals would be precluded. That "overlay zone" would have allowed short-term rentals either in areas zoned Resort Residential or, in another option, only in the area south of Fish Creek Falls Road and east of U.S. 40. Those options, however, were seen by some council members as unfair to the residents of neighborhoods where the rentals would be allowed an example of NIMBYism ("not in my back yard"), according to Councilman Paul Strong.
Council did not make a decision on certain regulations, such as the maximum size of homes used as short-term rentals and their volume within each neighborhood, asking city staff to research those issues before returning for another vote.
The first order of business was defining a "short-term rental", an item left undefined and unregulated beyond the collection of sales taxes in the current code. It was difficult at first for some audience members to understand exactly what was being discussed after the term "nightly rentals" fell by the wayside. And though Planning Director Wendie Schulenberg herself slipped up once briefly referring to the homes in question as "nightly rentals" the practice has ceased to bear that name.
The name change was made in part because the cut-off between a nightly, a short-term, and a long-term rental is a debatable issue. Short-term single-family rentals are now defined (in terms of time limit) as homes that are rented out for a period of no more than 29 days at a time.
The regulations include asking property owners to post a contact phone number so that neighbors or city officials can call them with problems and allowing the city to make biannual inspections of the property. All nightly rentals will have to be registered with the city.
City Council decided against putting language in the code acknowledging the importance of upholding neighborhood covenants, some of which prohibit short-term rentals. Covenants are seen as taking precedence over city regulations, though the city does not get involved in the enforcement of covenants.
Around 100 residents on both sides of the contentious issue packed Centennial Hall for the meeting and council gave the members of the public time to speak before moving into decision-making mode.
Public comment, led off with a poem entitled "Farewell Nightly Rentals," which was read by John Ross and written by Rich Tremaine, echoed many of the points brought up before City Council throughout its review of the code.
The arguments for allowing and perhaps deregulating short-term rentals were put forth by members of property management companies as well as concerned residents worried their ability to gain some added income off of their homes was in jeopardy.
One particularly eloquent speech came from Rev. David Henderson of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, who said he could not have afforded to live and work in the city were it not for his ability to rent out his home.
"In our situation, the only way we could afford a home was if we found property with income-producing potential," Henderson said. "Our commitment to the neighborhood is exactly the same as those on the other side of this issue."
Others, however, said they had personal experience with the disruptions caused by short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.
"The rental house behind me is the rental house from hell," said Dick Brim, a 23-year resident of Steamboat who lives in
the Whistler Meadows neighborhood. Brim said
his neighbor's "guests" have disruptive hot tub parties and keep floodlights on at all hours of the night.
The resolution of this issue, however, was seen by City Council as a very big first step toward healing the wounds generated among residents during the ongoing controversy over short-term rentals within neighborhoods.