Locals have mixed views on Summit County’s proposed opportunity zone strategy | SummitDaily.com

Locals have mixed views on Summit County’s proposed opportunity zone strategy

The idea is to identify neighborhoods traditionally occupied by locals and incentivize owners of short-term rentals to convert their properties into long-term housing

Summit County resident Josh Bartels stands in front of the Aspen Shadows Condominiums in Silverthorne on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. Bartels supports the idea of using opportunity zones to help with the county’s housing issues.
Photo by Ashley Low / Ashley Low Photography

One of the many strategies Summit County could use to mitigate the community’s affordable and attainable housing issue is through the use of opportunity zones. While the idea is largely still in the works, some locals have mixed views of whether or not it’ll have the intended impact to bring about additional housing for the workforce.

Summit County officials and staff are still working to identify the specifics of how the program could work, but the idea goes something like this: The county’s housing department would start by identifying “opportunity zones” — or neighborhoods traditionally occupied by locals. Some of these areas could include neighborhoods like Summit Cove near Keystone, Wildernest in Silverthorne and Wellington in Breckenridge.

According to a presentation outlined by Summit County Housing Director Jason Dietz earlier this summer, once identified, the county would launch a campaign promoting incentives for owners of short-term rentals so they convert their properties into long-term housing.

The program is still in the early stages and isn’t guaranteed to launch. County staff and officials are still ironing out what the details could look like, but the strategy has generated a lot of buzz as conversations continue, both from locals and from key stakeholder groups such as the Summit Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers.

Though the strategy hasn’t gotten off the ground yet, Silverthorne local and Wildernest resident Jacob Deneault says he doesn’t think this program would be successful.

“I don’t think incentivizing them will be anywhere near as effective as they think it will,” Deneault said.

Deneault has lived in the county for 12 years, 10 of which have been spent as a homeowner in the Wildernest neighborhood. Deneault said there’s numerous short-term rentals across from his home and, based on the amount of people filtering through his neighborhood each week, it’s hard to imagine that any amount of incentives will make it worthwhile for owners to transition their units into long-term housing.

“We live across the street from Treehouse and Snowscape (condos), and I literally look out my window and see (many) units just swarmed with people Thursday through Monday and it’s just absolute insanity,” Deneault said. “I really feel like — with the exception of the base areas at Copper, Breck and Keystone — that they need to restrict short-term rentals to primary occupancies only. That’s really the only way they’re going to gain traction with the places up here. There’s just too much money to be made.”

Though capping and restricting short-term rentals in the county isn’t off the table, it’s a strategy that many county and town officials have been hesitant to take. Many leaders fear that these units will sit completely empty for the majority of the year — except for the few weeks that owners might use them — if a cap is set. Even worse, these units could be put up for sale during a time when the real estate market is surging and prices are too high for many locals.

Deneault acknowledged these fears, but he said he still believes caps to be the best method forward, voicing his frustration that elected county officials haven’t yet taken this step.

“Some of those units would sit empty, but we don’t need all of them to switch,” Deneault said. “… There’s a lot of units, and even if there’s just a small percentage of them flipped to long-term, that’s a huge dent in the problem. Ultimately, some of the other units would likely just sell. It would take the edge off the housing market and take the edge off the housing issue. Granted, some would sit empty but others would flip.”

Josh Bartels, who also lives in Wildernest, said he supports the idea of opportunity zones and pointed out that most vacationers would rather stay at the base of ski resorts rather than in a local neighborhood in Silverthorne or Dillon.

Bartels said he’s currently living in a unit that was previously used for short-term rentals, and he and the owner negotiated a deal that worked for both parties prior to moving in. In his opinion, Bartels said this new strategy could give owners of short-term rentals a reason to pause and evaluate if they could make the numbers work.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for owners in the opportunity zones to look at what their profit margin is on a short-term rental versus what it could be on a long-term rental,” Bartels said. “If you look at my situation, the owner of the condo we live in was making money as a short-term rental and his decision to convert it to a long-term rental for us had to be at least partially based on the fact that he can continue to make the money he was as a short-term rental, if not more money.”

Bartels isn’t the only local in support of this strategy. Summit Cove resident Richard Weight owns a home near some short-term rentals, and though he notes that these units don’t deserve a bad reputation, he said he does think they should be located in areas more suited to their interests.

“Short-term rentals in and of themselves are not necessarily an inherently bad thing but it does strike me as though there are places where short-term rentals are more appropriate. … There should be opportunity, and there needs to be opportunity created, for full-time workers who live in the county and need places to live throughout the year,” he said.

Weight said he’d like to see local employees live in these zones, mostly because they not only serve visitors but also locals too and that people who work in the county should also be able to live here too.

Deneault, Bartels and Weight noted that they encounter frequent nuisance issues with nearby short-term rentals, most of which have to do with trash, parking and noise. Bartels and Deneault said they’ve never called to complain for various reasons. For example, Deneault said it’s often difficult to figure out which individuals are staying where, thus making it hard to complain about a certain unit.

Moving forward, the county will continue to flush out this strategy to see if it’s a viable option for the community. Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said there’s already a similar program in place called the Housing Works Initiative, and that the goal is to apply this program on a broader scale throughout the community.

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