Glenwood Springs Council candidates address concerns over short-term rentals
Compiled by Post Independent staff
On the issues
Who: Glenwood Springs candidates for City Council At-Large and Ward 3
What: A weeklong series with the candidates in the April 2 city election addressing the Post Independent’s questions.
Monday: What is your vision for Glenwood Springs’ confluence area redevelopment?
Tuesday: Specifically, what should be done with the parcel of land where the former Grand Avenue Bridge touched down adjacent to Sixth Street?
Wednesday: What is your position on the new 3/4-cent sales tax for citywide street construction and repairs, and why?
Thursday: What can City Council do to help people who work in Glenwood Springs also afford to live in Glenwood Springs?
Friday: How should the issue of short-term vacation rentals be handled in Glenwood Springs?
Glenwood Springs City Council and city staff have been wrestling with the issue of how best to permit and regulate the practice of making residential properties available for short-term vacation rentals.
The city now has a fee-based permitting process that also serves to put vacation rentals, commonly known as vacation rentals by owner, or VRBOs, on the books for city lodging tax purposes.
Recent conversations have revolved around whether additional policy is needed to limit the number of residences in Glenwood that can be offered up for short-term rentals. We asked the candidates in the two contested races for City Council in the April 2 city election their thoughts on the issue.
How should the issue of short-term vacation rentals be handled in Glenwood Springs?
This City’s Planning & Zoning Commission is scheduled to deliberate the issues surrounding short-term vacation rentals in the very near future, with the goal of making recommendations to the City Council. As a current member of City Council, it would be inappropriate of me to announce proposed solutions prior to receiving and considering the Commission’s recommendations.
I am hopeful, however, that the P&Z Commission’s deliberations will at least include the following topics:
1. Whether the permitting process should include limits on the number of guests, and the number of vehicles. Let me explain. Take a single-family residential home with two bedrooms and no attached garage. One would generally expect something like two adults and two or three children to live in that home, and the adults to have two cars that they park on the street in front of their home. Should the permit restrict the number of guests and vehicles to something similar?
2. There are ordinances related to inappropriate lighting and noise in our residential areas. These apply to permanent residents and short-term guests. Are current procedures and incentives, as well as enforcement resources, adequate to address violations to deal with immediate problems, as well as involve rental owners in ongoing solutions?
3. Do short-term rental properties purchased by non-local investors — whether from the Front Range, other states or other countries — present particular issues that local property owners do not? And should these non-locally owned businesses be restricted, particularly in single family residential neighborhoods?
This is a complex issue, and the city should continue seeking public input and tailor neighborhood-specific regulations that suit the community’s diverse needs.
Other communities across the country with similar economic bases and tourist appeal are also grappling with these issues and provide good laboratories from which we can and should learn. Ultimately, despite their downsides, short-term vacation rentals help provide options for tourists that current hotel inventory cannot meet, and flexibility in investments for our residents to help afford living here. Like it or not, these rentals are here to stay.
That said, we must be proactive with regulations and establish safeguards on unchecked expansion of this market. Regulatory constraints should ensure rentals are benefiting our residents and our neighborhoods, not outside investors with multiple holdings. To protect our valuable housing stock, we could also use regulations to encourage or incentivize property owners to keep properties as longer-term rentals.
Glenwood is not yet at a point of no return with this issue, but we most certainly do not want to find ourselves there. Even after the city makes policy decisions in the coming months, we should continue to actively monitor the situation, observe other communities and adjust as needed.
As a supporter of individual property rights, I am always concerned about more restrictions on what individuals can do with their home. However, zoning laws already restrict what I can do with my house in its residential neighborhood. I can’t add eight stories on my house, I can’t open Tony’s Bar and Grill, and I can’t engage in activities that create nuisances for my neighbors. We have zoning laws to protect our property values and ensure our neighborhoods are safe, quiet and enjoyable.
Importantly, I distinguish between local homeowners and outside entities buying up property to create full-time VRBOs. Permanent VRBOs affect our neighborhoods, home prices and decrease availability of long-term rentals which are essential to attract new, younger residents. Every home that is a permanent VRBO is a home taken off the rental housing market. It also effects stability, as in a recession decreased tourism would result in outside VRBO owners being forced to place houses, condos, apartments, etc. for sale — driving down home prices.
The quality of our neighborhoods suffers when we lose permanent residents. Empty houses that are only occupied on weekends and holidays create issues, including tax problems.
I was in favor of a moratorium so we can study this issue. Regrettably a majority of the council voted to end that moratorium before we could adopt reasonable regulations to protect our neighborhoods and home values. That was a mistake. Before we lose control of the issue, let’s ensure we have proper zoning and controls for vacation VRBOs.
Ward 3 candidates
While I am not for eliminating short-term rentals, I do believe they should be limited. Having too many in one neighborhood reduces the sense of community, causes parking issues, and decreases the available housing in an already tight market. I would support more study of the impact and limitations on the number of units that can be offered as short term rentals.
I personally developed a vacation rental as soon as I heard about them, and was 100 percent successful. At one year, I heard an NPR interview and the speaker said there are enough homes in the VRBO market in Germany that every refugee from Syria could have been housed. It evoked a deeper sense of thought on the idea for me. I looked it up. That year, Glenwood had a 300 percent increase in VRBOs. Those two things were enough for me. I turned back to housing locals.
I understand this to be a worldwide transformation of the housing market. Fast, easy money, versus help for struggling homeowners. While I support people being able to raise their station in life, this isn’t always the case. I do not support people buying numerous homes for VRBOs. It creates a huge income disparity and the reality that some hard-working people will always be destined to rent, and others can buy up many houses.
It takes money to make money. I would like to dive into this issue and come up with creative solutions that honor our crisis of housing before we build rentals to justify.
Ownership of property must allow for reasonable uses of that property on one hand, while on the other hand zoning and similar rules are necessary to ensure that property is properly regulated in individual zone districts.
Vacation rentals are a business use not unlike many other business uses of property in the city. Thus, reasonable and appropriate licensing fees, regulations and enforcement policies are necessary. Enforcement should include a revocation of the permit for violations that are continuing and substantial. There should be no “automatic” right to renew.
Another issue which arises ties into the previous question regarding attainable workforce housing. If more and more residential units are purchased to be used as vacation rentals, then the corollary is the reduction of rental units or housing units for purchase to meet the workforce housing demand.
Council needs to determine if reasonable limits should be placed on the number of vacation rentals. Reviewing the data available to the city does not provide a definitive answer. Like any business, the market can become saturated, which limits the number of viable units; thus the numbers are self-regulating.
A contrary concern is that the use becomes a use by right, thus limiting the city in the future from reducing vacation rental numbers if too much impact on workforce housing is seen. Limiting this to a special-review use would likely alleviate this concern.
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The three incumbents are declared, and challengers have until Jan. 25 to gather nominating signatures to run for Glenwood Springs City Council April 6.