‘Our trajectory is troubling:’ Breckenridge to set cap on short-term rental licenses
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that there are 1,469 short-term rental properties that are exempt from town administrative fees and would not be included in the proposed short-term rental license cap, meaning there are 2,476 nonexempt properties that would be subject to the cap of 2,200.
Breckenridge Town Council held a community discussion about capping short-term rentals at its work session on Tuesday, Aug. 24. After hearing from dozens of local residents, the council directed town staff to draft legislation capping short-term rental licenses at 2,200.
The discussion garnered a virtual audience of almost 150 people, and the council chambers were filled with folks ready to comment. Most attendees were in support of capping short-term rentals with few asking for alternate solutions. There was also a group of people standing outside Breckenridge Town Hall prior to the discussion with various signs asking the town to cap licenses.
Council members emphasized that overcrowding in Breckenridge isn’t solely an issue with short-term rentals, but locals are disheartened with the change in character of the town over the past few years.
“My fear is the Breckenridge product is diminished,” council member Jeffrey Bergeron said. “I just don’t think we’re as good of a host as we could be, often because our work staff is overworked, businesses are understaffed, and the sense of being vested in the community is not what it used to be.”
Council members said housing units are clearly out of balance when comparing Breckenridge to other communities. The town council agenda packet noted that there are only 200 short-term rental units in Salida. Town Manager Rick Holman pointed out that Breckenridge has more short-term rental licenses than any other municipality in Colorado.
“We absolutely need short-term rentals, but the issue is our balance is lost,” council member Carol Saade said. “Our trajectory is troubling.”
Public comment included a variety of anecdotes about how the town has changed over the years, and many said a cap is not enough.
“Is the town of Breckenridge the next Vail Village of vacationers only, or has it already become that?” Breckenridge business owner James Vecchio asked to open the public comment period. “When are enough visitors enough? When is enough revenue enough? This is the question important to answer in order to get back to our community feel and have a fair balance.”
Mark Thomas, a Breckenridge realtor, commended council for investing time in reversing community degradation, something he said is characteristic of having too many people. He also argued that the demand for Breckenridge is only going to get worse, and that short-term rentals are not just a Breckenridge issue. Thomas said if short-term rentals are capped in Breckenridge, it could lead to more short-term rentals in Blue River or other local towns.
Breckenridge resident Kim McGahey said that reducing short-term rentals would lead guests to visit other resort communities instead of Breckenridge, causing the town’s economy to disappear and businesses to close.
According to the work session agenda packet, Breckenridge currently has 3,945 licensed short-term rental units, which amounts to 52% of the town’s housing stock. There are 1,469 properties that are exempt from town administrative fees and would not be included in the cap since they have a front desk and on-site security, meaning there are 2,476 nonexempt properties that would be subject to the cap. Staff estimated it could take anywhere from three to five years to get the number of short-term rental licenses down to 2,200 through attrition.
Prior to the discussion, town staff presented troubling housing and community character trends the town has seen since 2010. The number of employees living and working in Summit County has dropped by 20% — a loss of 3,000 employees. The number of jobs filled by residents have also dropped 13% and the number of resident-occupied homes dropped by 8%, which amounts to 600 units. During this time, the town added 300 deed-restricted housing units to the town’s housing inventory.
Holman said other resort communities are taking various approaches, setting caps and having similar discussions to control short-term rentals, but none have the high quantity of short-term rental units that Breckenridge does.
“They don’t want to get to the place that Breckenridge is at right now,” Holman said.
Mayor Eric Mamula said for many, it feels like there are commercial enterprises stuck in the middle of their neighborhoods, and said it has gotten to a point where council needs to get involved.
“This is not what it has always been,” Mamula said. “That needle between short-term and long-term rental has really moved past a state of balance that it used to have.”
Council member Dick Carleton said while the town has made great revenue from short-term rentals, “that’s not what it’s all about.” He emphasized the quality of life for residents and their ability to live and work in town as the biggest priority.
“We were charged as a council with our primary goals of the destination management plan to fiercely protect the character of Breckenridge,” Carleton said. “For me, that’s a lot of what this discussion is about, because I do believe that the increase of short-term rentals in the community … has tremendously changed the character of this town.”
Council member Erin Gigliello also emphasized the impact on the community and said the local people are what makes the community special. She proposed a cap of 1,500, which was followed by applause from the audience.
“Hometown feel and authentic character is one of our values,” Gigliello said. “Today, we’ve also seen that our community is currently hurting, so I do worry about the current number of (short-term rentals). I know that we’ve been called a short-term rental community, and I just disagree with that, I don’t think we are.”
Council plans to address exemptions for future amendments to the legislation. This was brought up after attendee Ty Humphries said the only way he is able to live in Breckenridge and pay his mortgage is by short-term renting a bedroom out of his home.
“If I can’t have my one room short-term rental, I’ve got to go,” Humphries said.
Council was also in consensus that once an owner sells their home, the short-term rental license would not transfer to the new owner. Josh Epperson, a local condo owner, said during public comment that there are some buildings designed to be short-term rentals and that there should be exemptions to this rule for these kinds of areas.
Town staff will draft an ordinance for first reading at the next council meeting on Sept. 14 and a second reading on Sept. 28. Should the legislation pass second reading, it will take effect 35 days after the council vote — Nov. 2. Folks will still be able to apply for short-term rental licenses prior to the legislation taking effect, and town staff said they expect a rush of applications to come in.
The town would not take away any existing short-term rental licenses either. Since the current amount of licenses is more than the cap the town hopes to set, no new license would be issued until the number comes down to below the cap, which would happen through attrition.
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