Steamboat City Council to consider relaxing aspects of vacation home rental policy |

Steamboat City Council to consider relaxing aspects of vacation home rental policy

City of Steamboat Springs Project Manager Laura Anderson and Bob Furman, with Civil Design Consultants, discuss plans Tuesday for a new trail connection on the Mount Werner Road underpass. City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to spend $91,187 from its 2010 capital budget to match grants in support of a new urban trail that would link existing trails beneath the Mount Werner Road underpass.

— The Steamboat Springs City Council took the first step Tuesday toward relaxing fees and parking constraints on the operators of licensed vacation home rental properties, but not before it heard from passionate constituents on either side of an issue that has stirred a stew of emotions for more than a decade.

"I bought my home in a residential neighborhood so my children could know their neighbors," Susan de Wardt told the council. "Now I have people throwing snowballs at me and drunks in the driveways all the time, flipping me off because I want to park in my own driveway. There are people hot tubbing naked where my 14-year-old can look out the window and see them."

De Wardt, who lives close to a vacation home rental on Glacier Ridge, said there is a steady stream of guests coming and going from the rental property.

"It's crazy, and it's constant traffic. It's not neighborhood use," she said. "This is a rezoning issue. If that's what you want to do, let's call it a rezoning hearing."

Retired schoolteacher and property manager Rick Bettger told council in no uncertain terms that any paying guests in his Old Town rental behave themselves or he refunds a portion of their money and sends them packing.

"I'm a licensed VHR operator, and I'm proud of it," Bettger said. "We are a valuable part of this community. This is a ski resort and people like to rent a home, (not just) a condo, not a hotel. I had 16 people from six states staying in my six-bedroom house over the weekend. I tell people, 'You're going to be a good neighbor in my home.' If you want to open this whole thing up, you need to set aside a lot of time."

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As it turned out, the council had little or no enthusiasm for revisiting the broader discussion of the legitimacy of vacation home rentals. However, it unanimously voted Tuesday to direct city staff to prepare an ordinance for first reading that would allow some vacation home managers the ability to qualify for as many as six outdoor parking permits. That's up from the maximum of four in the current regulations. And council also will consider reducing the annual permit renewal fees from $50 for each bedroom in the home to a flat fee of $50.

However, council members declined to revisit a provision that requires vacation home rentals with a shared driveway or road access with other homes to get written permission from those property owners to conduct a commercial business.

City Council President Cari Hermacinski reminded audience members who spoke out about the issue Tuesday that the draft ordinance would go through two more public hearings.

The topic of allowing vacation rentals of duplexes and single-family homes in neighborhoods zoned residential has been a touchy subject since the late 1990s. The current ordinance enabling and regulating the practice grew out of the revision of the city's zoning code and ultimately was passed in 2001. The ordinance was revisited in 2007 when fees and a plan of enforcement were imposed on vacation rental operators, who were required to register with the city.

The city requires people choosing to rent their single-family homes on a nightly basis to pay an initial $500 registration fee and an annual fee of $50 per bedroom. But Suzie Spiro, of Steamboat Lodging Properties, said professional management companies are bearing the regulatory burden while smaller operators continue to fly under the radar.

"You're willing to penalize those of us who operate as property managers," Spiro told the council. "What, if anything, are you willing to do about homes that are rented without a license and without collecting sales tax? There's no way you can stop them."

Councilwoman Meg Bentley agreed that there is an enforcement problem with the city's current approach to regulating vacation home rentals.

All too often, she said, police officers respond to a complaint of unruly activity at a vacation home rental and warn the temporary guests that the owner will face repercussions if they don't change their behavior.

"Giving these warnings, the policeman may come back and it's a different guy, that's why people don't call anymore," Bentley said.

Longtime resident John Thra­sher, who first spoke out at a hearing about vacation home rental more than 10 years ago, said the issue boils down to the expectations people had when they purchased their permanent residences.

"It is, in fact, a zoning issue," Thrasher said. "Our neighborhood was originally designed for residential uses. People bought homes not expecting to have businesses operating next door.

"Restrictions were put into place to mitigate some of the impacts of vacation home rentals. If they are changed or reduced, what was a big issue a decade ago is going to come back. You'll hear from the neighbors."

Robin Craigen, whose company Moving Mountains Chalets operates a number of vacation home rentals that offer a high level of services, urged council not to reopen the entire subject but to look at the three specific issues brought forward by planning staff.

When 4 is not enough

Councilman Walter Magill moved to change the regulations to allow some vacation home rental managers to appeal the limit of four vehicles parked outdoors when they can demonstrate to city planning officials that they have extenuating circumstances that support as many as six vehicles.

"I still prefer four vehicles, but if they prove they have all weather drainable surfaces," there might not be a reason to deny them, Magill said.

City Planner Jason Peasley was assigned to draft a set of criteria that would be incorporated into the ordinance changes and used by his colleagues to make decisions about requests for expanded parking.

Councilman Jim Engelken, in his last meeting before stepping down from his post, suggested that annual renewal fees should not be lowered but possibly increased to fund more consistent enforcement of vacation home rental regulations.

But Hermacinski convinced her fellow council members that additional funds should come from renewed efforts to require all homeowners renting their property to vacationers to register with the city.

The next public hearing date on vacation home rentals has not been set.

In other action

  • City Council voted unanimously to spend $91,187 from its 2010 capital budget to match grants in support of a new urban trail that would link existing trails beneath the Mount Werner Road underpass. Great Outdoors Colorado has granted $34,500 in lottery proceeds for the project, and Colorado State Parks will provide another $37,285.
  • City Director of Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Chris Wilson told City Council in a memo that the project would connect the Wildhorse Meadows trail where it ends just west of Loaf ‘N Jug through the highway underpass to the Yampa River Core Trail at Rotary Park.
  • Council unanimously approved the petition of Casey’s Pond LLC for a preliminary plat subdividing a 12-acre parcel on Walton Creek Road to enable the development of a senior living campus on the western half of the site. The action paves the way for the creation of a new city street, connecting Walton Creek Road to Owl Hoot Lane in Wildhorse Meadows.
  • Councilman Jim Engelken, who is stepping down in the midst of his term on City Council, was feted by Council and city staff members with a cake and presented a photograph of Steamboat Ski Area. Engelken, who said he first moved to Steamboat when he was 20, previously served a long tenure on Council in the 1990s. He is leaving the city to reunite his family in Denver where his wife, Nancy, is employed.

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