Despite an overwhelming amount of pushback, Summit County Commissioners approve a temporary short-term rental license moratorium

The moratorium goes into effect Friday, Sept. 17 at 11:59 p.m. and will last 90 days

At the Summit Board of County Commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14, commissioners placed a moratorium on new short-term rental license applications.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

Breckenridge isn’t the only local entity that is restricting short-term rental licenses. Starting at 11:59 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17, Summit County’s temporary short-term rental license moratorium takes effect, effectively putting a ban on new licenses in unincorporated areas of the county for the next 90 days.

The county began seriously considering a short-term rental license moratorium during a Summit Board of County Commissioners’ work session meeting on Sept. 7. Up until this point, the county has largely dragged its feet in capping or banning short-term rental licenses, mainly due to push back from the short-term rental community. But during the meeting on Sept. 7, officials noted that a moratorium of some sort could give staff the bandwidth to focus on other strategies that could curb the issues the community faces with a lack of affordable and attainable workforce housing.

Summit County Senior Planner Jessica Potter described the new move as a “a pause on what we’re already doing.” The memo sent to staff reiterated that this move was “to allow staff time to develop and propose amended short-term rental regulations through the code amendment process.”

According to Potter’s presentation during the commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 14, the proposal only applies to unincorporated Summit County and only to new licenses. It does not affect conversions or renewals of existing licenses.

The proposal also outlines specific areas exempt from the moratorium, meaning the county can still issue new short-term rental licenses to these areas. These include a couple of subdivisions at the base of Peak 8 in Breckenridge — including the SkiWatch subdivision and the Four O’Clock subdivision — and properties located at Copper Mountain and at Keystone.

Some real estate sales currently under contract are exempt, too. If buyers can show they have an intent to short-term rent their new properties, they can sign an affidavit and fill out a special form, thus entering into a special exemption process.

During the regular meeting, Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence pointed out that the county’s planning department is understaffed and noted that the department has received close to 100 short-term rental applications just in the past week. She said that instituting a moratorium allows the planning department the additional bandwidth to conduct a data analysis that will help them develop future strategies that could help mitigate the affordable housing issue.

Despite an overwhelming amount of public comment pushing back against the move, the commissioners approved the measure.

The meeting was held both virtually and in-person, and the public was allowed to comment through either means. At one point, nearly 100 attendees were tuned in via Zoom, and close to 30 members of the public visited in person.

Several community members voiced their opinions on a proposed short-term rental moratorium at the Summit County Commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14, where commissioners ended up placing a moratorium on new short-term rental license applications despite comments against the measure.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

Most of the commentators voiced their skepticism that the moratorium wouldn’t produce the results that the county desired, and some, such as Meredith and Jason Adams, of Mountain Living Real Estate, and Adam Parker, owner of property management firm Summit Luxury, declared that they didn’t think the county should have the authority to make these kinds of decisions.

“I’d like to point out the obvious,” said Adams. “Today, I’ve heard a lot of really good, thoughtful statements, and I think the overwhelming majority of them are not interested in this moratorium or don’t believe that it is the right course of action. I think that’s what I want to point out — that I understand there’s a problem here, but I really think short-term rentals are just the easy villain in this picture and that this moratorium is really not solving the problem.”

Parker acknowledged that the county and similar areas like Vail have affordable housing issues but said he believes targeting short-term rentals isn’t the answer.

“We don’t want to challenge the very nature of resort towns, which are visitors, because of a culturally common issue,” he said.

Some commentators didn’t think this measure would be successful in part because of how some use their units. Owners of short-term rental units usually purchase their properties because they’d like to use them throughout the year. If they aren’t able to rent the properties out, many of them will sit vacant.

Other commentators, such as Boulder resident Katie Davis and Karen Frisone, managing broker and owner of K.O. Real Estate in Denver, noted that some people purchase their units and short-term rent them out to help pay for their mortgage and bills.

“I have some clients right now who are actively trying to negotiate a contract on a property in unincorporated Breckenridge,” Frisone said. “It’s a multimillion-dollar property, and the lower unit is a short-term rental that they would consider using for passive income, and maybe long-term, but mostly they want to use it as a family. How you vote today is whether or not they decide to move to this area.”

To that, Lawrence said she does not think it is appropriate that the county insert itself into these matters.

In both instances, people with short-term rentals will still be allowed to operate as normal. This moratorium only impacts new licenses.

Other commentators said they thought the county should use other strategies to reach their goals. Mark Baumann, real estate agent for Slifer, Smith & Frampton, said he’d like to see the county build new, higher-density developments. Others said they’d like to see the county partner with other surrounding counties, arguing that locals don’t have to live in Summit. Stephen Traweek, sales and development manager for Pinnacle Lodging, said he’d like to see the county offer incentives for owners to convert their properties rather than restricting licenses.

Besides this, Peter Reeburgh, CEO of Summit Cove Lodging, said he was “blown away” that the moratorium was partly due to a staffing issue. Reeburgh said he didn’t think the moratorium would do anything but “make headlines” and cause “panic and hysteria.”

“I’m just really blown away by that comment that this is a staffing issue,” he said. “This is the core issue that we’ve gotten down to, finally, and I think it’s ridiculous. … Get after your planning department, set a deadline and get these people working. They’re paid to do this.”

During the discussion, it was noted that the county’s planning department is currently down one staff member, and that the county as a whole is down by 100 positions. Lawrence noted that the implementation of the moratorium is not just to give the department more bandwidth but also to continue examining the affordable housing issue as a whole. Lawrence also reported that many community members have reached out to staff and the commissioners in support of a moratorium.

Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue reiterated Lawrence’s thoughts in saying that the point of the moratorium is to gather more data that can be used to make decisions in the future.

Though some commentators pointed out that the overwhelming majority of thoughts shared during the meeting were against the moratorium, Lawrence reminded the audience that there are many who are in favor of it, and that “most of those folks are working.”

Prior to voting and approving the measure, all three commissioners noted that this was a temporary measure. In the meantime, the commissioners encouraged additional public comment to be shared online.

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