Following locals-first pledge, Silverthorne Town Council discusses short-term rental regulations

The Smith Ranch neighborhood in Silverthorne is pictured Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. Because Smith Ranch is designated for workforce housing, it is prohibited to operate a short-term rental in one of its homes.
Lindsey Toomer/Summit Daily News archive

Two weeks after Silverthorne Town Council approved a new comprehensive plan that focuses on putting locals first, council members met during a work session dedicated to addressing short-term rental regulations.

Currently, there are 220 short-term rentals among Silverthorne’s approximately 2,600 total units.

Though Silverthorne’s percentage of rentals is low, some council members want to get ahead of the game, citing other mountain communities’ struggles with the growing short-term rental market encroaching on family and workforce neighborhoods. Town staff recommended a potential 10% cap on licenses in neighborhood zones and higher limits, like 50% or more, in the town core or areas around the Blue River. 

“What we’re seeing is that now with the town of Breckenridge putting a cap on short-term rentals and Summit County putting a moratorium in place on short-term rentals — we’re seeing an increase in the requests for licenses,” Assistant Town Manager Mark Leidal said. “We do anticipate seeing a significant increase in the request for short-term rental applications here. Also, with a lot of the multifamily units that we’re currently constructing here within town, we are seeing a lot of those turning into short-term rentals. We do see a lot of them coming online here probably in the next year or so.”

This conversation comes at a time when mountain towns across the state are addressing regulations on short-term rentals and licensing. On June 7, Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously approved a tourism district overlay map that prohibits new licenses in most of the city but allows other zones — such as zones near the ski area and downtown — to be unrestricted. In May, Summit County Commissioners placed a nine-month moratorium on zones in unincorporated county neighborhoods, and the town of Breckenridge is continuing its discussion on how to handle licenses using zones, as well. 

Town manager Ryan Hyland added that because Silverthorne’s situation is much different than Breckenridge’s, where licenses are causing trouble for local neighborhoods and workforce housing, Silverthorne Town Council’s approach could be more flexible, and he said community members who operate short-term rentals should not panic. 

“There’s a lot of room for new licenses in Silverthorne, and it sounds like there’s an appetite from the council to have a lot more licenses — it’s just where they are,” Hyland said. “To the point of scaring a lot of folks, I think with what (Leidal) has thrown on the table, where the majority of those new units are coming in, it sounds like there could be a lot of room for (new licenses).”

Most council members came to a consensus that protecting the character of traditional neighborhoods should be a priority. Leidal added that in the Willowbrook neighborhood, 16 of the 287 units are short-term rentals. In areas of town like Summit Sky Ranch, that percentage of short-term rentals is much higher. Council member Chris Carran expressed that her concerns lie with corporations coming in and buying multiple houses in neighborhoods to turn into short-term rentals, rather than second-home owners looking to make extra money with their vacation homes. Leidal said that town staff have already seen corporations buy units in Silverthorne. 

“I really liked the idea of focusing on neighborhoods, and it really goes with our comprehensive plan of ‘locals first’ and having the integrity of the neighborhoods,” council member Amy Manka said. “I hear lots of feedback from other people about that situation, as well —  the impact of them having short-term renters as neighbors. I think that’s something we really have to consider.”

Leidal said that just discussing short-term rentals in any capacity is likely to cause an increase in applications, but Mike Spry said that those who apply for those are likely to just apply for them for insurance, not to actually use them. He also said that since the percentage of short-term rentals is still low and not causing a threat to local workforce housing (since these second homes are more expensive), council should not be worried about them at this time.

“One, we’re making a lot of guesses on what people are going to be doing with these licenses, and I’m not comfortable playing mind reader,” Spry said. “There’s a lot of different reasons why people short-term now. I don’t want to draw little circles around a map and say this area is treated differently than others. For me, it just comes down to property rights.”

Council members briefly discussed a moratorium but decided that taking time to speak to community members would be the best approach to finding a potential solution. 

“(Town Council) meetings and times are really not conducive to our working population. You guys have heard me say this all the time that they need to be frequent, there need to be many different types, (and) they need to be us going to the community because our community is 5,100-strong, and there’s seven people in here because (working residents) can’t come here,” Council member Erin Young said. “We need to be really cognizant of our workers who work multiple jobs and can’t make it to every meeting (and) language. They might not be able to come here and be comfortable speaking in English as a primary. Communication is key.”

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