As Keystone residents unveil draft charter for new town, tensions flare over second-home owner voting
Some property owners say the town’s rules should be more accommodating to non-primary residents. But state law makes that complicated.
Less than three months after a majority of voters chose to make Keystone Colorado’s newest town, residents now have a draft charter to review.
Unveiled on June 19, the 19-page document will serve as the foundational rules for the town, should it be approved by registered voters later this year. It outlines the structure and powers of local officials, stipulates voting eligibility and defines various government roles.
But it is already facing backlash from some Keystone property owners who, despite not being registered residents, say the proposal is exclusionary by denying them participation in local elections.
During a June 21 meeting, second-home owners publicly called for major changes to the draft written by a commission of nine elected residents. Some who supported the incorporation efforts to become a town said they felt “lied to” and “fooled” by the charter’s language, which prohibits nonresidents from voting or holding elected office.
Todd Myers, who owns property in the Cabin in the Pines neighborhood, said his homeowners association donated money for the incorporation campaign “with the understanding that we were going to have a voice.”
“I thought you had our back,” Myers said. “Apparently, you don’t.”
While they may have helped the campaign, homeowners who were not registered Keystone residents were unable to sign the petition that kicked off the incorporation process last year. They were also unable to vote in the March election, which saw just over 290 votes in favor of incorporation.
Of the roughly 1,300 full-time Keystone residents, just over 900 are registered voters. But the area’s population can reach 25,000 during peak ski season, with thousands of second-home owners who occupy property throughout the year.
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Charter commission members said they’ve made efforts to provide representation to those homeowners but maintained that they are bound by state laws that make it a challenge to allow them to vote.
“What we didn’t want to do is put the new town at risk of what would for sure be some lawsuits,” said commission member Dan Sullivan.
For example, a homeowner whose property is listed under a trust or limited liability company cannot vote, since state law grants voting rights to individuals, not corporations. Given the proliferation of short-term rentals, “That wipes out a great number (of second-home owners),” said commission member Tim Huiting.
Second home-owners who aren’t registered residents cannot vote in every other town in Summit County as well as in towns across Colorado. Only a handful of municipalities have allowed second-home owner voting based on those provisions, though in some instances it created legal headaches for officials.
This was seen in the town of Mountain Village, which has been hit with past lawsuits over the issue. Huiting said commission members feared that same outcome in Keystone if they attempted such a model.
“You’re distinguishing personal voting rights based on some characteristics you come up with,” Huiting said. “We have looked at it. There’s just a lot of laws and statutes that prevent us from doing those things.”
Still, the charter does accommodate property owners in other ways, Huiting said.
For example, non-registered voters can be appointed to town commissions, such as planning and zoning, which can have broad latitude over land-use decisions. It also contains no language around regulating short-term rentals, which has become a flashpoint across the county, though a town council could still decide to regulate such properties at a later point.
Commission member William Schorling called Keystone’s draft rules the “least-restrictive charter in Summit County” and maintained that it provides immense flexibility for future governance while avoiding potential legal issues.
Not all second-home owners who spoke during the meeting said they had a desire to vote. Several said they could still have a voice in the new town by participating on commissions. Others implored their peers to change their voter registration if they wished to participate electorally.
Some speakers also urged the Keystone community to consider other demographics, such as renters and members of the workforce, in these discussions.
The commission will have to finalize the charter proposal within a matter of weeks in order to put it to a citizen vote later this summer. A charter election will need to be scheduled at least 30 days after the draft is completed, said Riley, who is eyeing an August or early September vote.
That will mark the next crucial hurdle the town must overcome in order to secure true self governance.
If a charter proposal is voted down, the commission will have a second chance to refine it before putting it to a second vote. But if it fails again, the town automatically becomes a statutory town rather than a home rule town.
Statutory towns, which include the towns of Montezuma and Blue River, have less local autonomy and face greater governance by state laws.
Besides the issue of second-home owner voting, the charter commission will have to win majority support on a slew of other provisions to pass the document. That includes the initial structure of the town’s council and how its members are elected.
As written, the charter would create a six-person council with a “weak mayor” — a ceremonial town head who has the same legislative power as any other council member. Those members would be elected at-large, meaning they could run in any part of the town, across four-year, staggered terms.
Some speakers voiced concern with at-large elections, citing different interests across the community that would warrant the creation of districts, also known as wards. One commentator even urged voters to reject the charter if districts are not included.
Ken Riley, a Keystone resident who led the incorporation effort as president of Incorporate Keystone and the Keystone Citizens League, said the charter commission “has not made a final decision” about second-home owner voting and other issues.
“This is a preliminary draft that will be considered next week,” Riley said, adding the charter commission is “open to receiving any comments” from community members.
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