Jan 26, 2023
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct information about exemptions for accessory dwelling units regarding qualified occupancy.
During their first reading of an ordinance to limit the number of short-term rental licenses in Summit County’s unincorporated areas, the Summit Board of County Commissioners voted to replace a cap on nightly stays with a yearly limit on individual bookings by property owners.
It marks a reversal from the board’s previous decision to include and enforce night limits, though the booking cap — set at 26 — is intended to achieve the same goal of reducing complaints from short-term rental neighbors. Regulations will affect only properties that rent for less than 30 days at a time.
“I think the majority of vacation rental owners … are doing the right things,” Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said. “It almost puts the control back on the property owner. How do you want to rent your property?”
That change is set to be included in the ordinance set before the commissioners on Feb. 15, when they will take a final vote on implementing the policy.
As it stands currently, no changes have been made to the license caps — which were decided on by commissioners during a Nov. 15 meeting — with caps ranging from 5% to 18%. That means certain areas of the county outside of town limits will see no more than 5% to 18% of its housing units able to serve as short-term rentals, though commissioners carved out a slew of exceptions for some residents.
The policy debate and change by commissioners came without a public hearing — which is standard for first readings per county guidelines but which frustrated several attendees, some of whom stood out of their seats to interject as commissioners were speaking.
“The most shocking thing to me is the overwhelming support here for short-term rentals, for not increasing short-term rental regulations,” said Tommy Jeffries, who owns a five-bedroom short-term rental home in the Silver Shekel neighborhood north of Breckenridge. “Yet, they’re completely ignoring the overwhelming majority of the people here who are trying to speak up for short-term rentals.”
Debate over short-term rental regulations has driven many property owners to pack the room during commissioner meetings. Though a vast majority present for those meetings has routinely spoken against the regulations, the results last year of a county survey of more than 1,700 people showed most were in support of some form of regulation.
Still, short-term rental owners have raised concerns about how new policies could affect their ability to generate income. Recently, an online Change.org petition against the proposed caps has been circulated by some residents of the Peak 7 neighborhood near Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Jeffries said he fears a booking cap would incentivize longer stays, which he said would bring more affluent clientele and hurt his rental audience.
“I do a lot of shorter stays — one-night rentals, two-night rentals,” Jeffries said. “I won’t be able to afford (my house) if I do not short-term rent it.”
Jeffries said he “does not think it should be the burden of homeowners” to fix “the housing crisis for long-term rentals.”
Along with the impacts to neighborhood quality, a key argument posed by commissioners for why short-term rental regulation is necessary is to preserve as much housing stock as possible for long-term living amid record-high home prices.
Pete Isert, another county resident, said he believes a license cap would help combat the lack of housing availability in the county.
“The town is so much different because of all the short-term rentals, and we don’t have places for workforce people to live. That is difficult to watch,” Isert said.
But he added that he understands the concern from rental owners and said he felt attendees should have had a chance to speak directly to the issue through a public hearing during the first reading.
“You can’t just throw this out there, have these changes and deny the voice of the people,” Isert said.
According to county language, which was included at the bottom of the public agenda for the Jan. 24 meeting, a first reading “is an introduction of the proposal; no public testimony is taken and the ordinance may not be adopted.” Those comments are taken during a second reading, the language states.
Commissioner Josh Blanchard said county staff “will continue to endeavor to be as transparent as we can on process and do understand that, despite our efforts with posting, there were some who were concerned.”
Listen to a Summit Daily News recording of the Tuesday, Jan. 24, Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting capturing attendees’ responses to the lack of a public hearing. Robert Tann/Summit Daily News
The legislative amendments build off more than a year of policy discussion around short-term rentals by commissioners, who first implemented a moratorium on issuing new licenses that went into effect on Sept. 17, 2021, and lasted for 90 days. That was followed by a second moratorium, which commissioners approved during a meeting May 24, 2022, which is in effect until Feb. 24.
As the county inches closer to that deadline, commissioners could pass their short-term rental ordinance just shy of 10 days before the moratorium expires if it’s approved Feb. 15.
Jessica Potter, a senior planner for the county, said the regulations are meant to strike a balance between supporting the tourism economy while protecting neighborhoods and available housing.
“There are some externalities that we’re trying to mitigate,” Potter said, adding that the short-term rentals have supported more than 8,000 jobs in the county. “However, some of those externalities do spill out into the neighborhoods.”
Outside of the changes made to booking caps — as well as removing Type III licenses in favor of Type I and II, which are the most common form of short-term rental license — the ordinance has remained largely unchanged from how county staff has presented it over the past several weeks.
If passed, it would place license caps across the county’s unincorporated areas, which are lower than the licenses currently in effect. The goal, according to county staff, is to allow those caps to be met naturally in the coming years through the sale of a home or a license not being renewed.
For example, the Lower Blue Basin — an area north of the town of Silverthorne — decreased from having about 19% of its homes hold short-term rental licenses in the middle of 2022 to 18% in late 2022. The commissioners’ cap for that area, if passed, would be 15% — about 550 licenses — by 2025.
The ordinance would also allow for exemptions to the cap for county-based workers and retirees who live in homes that they also rent. Residents who work more than 30 hours per week in the county or who’ve retired and have a history of working in the county for at least 10 to 15 years would be exempt from the caps.
With those exemptions, residents living in their home could rent out rooms with no limitations. They could also rent up to half their home — up to two bedrooms — for up to 60 nights if they choose to not live in the home full time And they could rent their main home short term if they choose to rent an accessory dwelling unit, a smaller unit on the property, to a qualified occupant — such as a member of the county’s workforce.
The goal of these exemptions, staff said, is to protect seniors and members of the county’s workforce who might rely on short-term renting to afford their home.
License caps will not be in effect for short-term rentals in what staff has called “resort overlay zones,” which contain the majority — 63% — of all license-holders. Those areas include homes in Keystone and Copper Mountain Resort.
Potter said 86% of complaints about short-term rentals occur in neighborhood areas outside of the resort overlay zones, which account for just 37% of all short-term rentals.
The findings of a 2019 housing needs assessment found 14% of respondents said a landlord broke or did not renew their lease in order to convert their property into a short-term rental, highlighting the impacts these rental properties can have on housing for locals, Potter said.
Commissioner Tamara Pogue, speaking with the Summit Daily News the day after the meeting, said she believes the county has taken a balanced approach to the regulations to protect all interests of the county and has done so with extensive outreach, including eight work sessions, numerous planning commission meetings and open house discussions in each of the four basins.
“I do appreciate the community’s input, everyone who’s engaged in this conversation,” Pogue said. “Summit County relies on tourism, we have to have tourism. That’s why we have prioritized primary home residents in this.”
But she added that the conversation around policy has become tense.
“Maybe the saying, ‘If everybody’s mad at you, you actually have found the right balance’ rings true,” Pogue said. “I believe where we are now is both a recognition of the needs of our workforce and permanent residents in our community and the need for tourism.”