Summit County commissioners approve package of short-term rental regulations despite complaints, ending a monthslong initiative
Under the new policy, licenses for short-term rentals will be limited and caps will be placed on yearly bookings. But some exceptions will exist for members of the workforce and retirees.
More than a year after passing the first moratorium on short-term rental licenses for unincorporated areas of Summit County, the Summit Board of County Commissioners has approved a package of new regulations for those properties.
During a Feb. 15 public meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to implement license caps and limit short-term bookings while carving out some exceptions for certain residents, finalizing a monthslong effort by the county government to preserve housing stock and mitigate neighborhood tensions.
“I know that it’s not been without conflict,” said Commissioner Josh Blanchard. “I appreciate the passion … I appreciate the engagement.”
As commissioners prepared to vote, they listened through public comments lasting roughly three hours as dozens packed the room and more than 180 watched online. As residents and property owners spoke, they highlighted the differing attitudes and — at times — contention around the proposal to regulate the short-term rental industry.
“Summit County finds itself in a really difficult place, which makes this a very difficult decision,” said Commissioner Tamara Pogue. “We’ve heard from so many people over the course of this conversation just how much their livelihood depends on short-term rentals. But we’ve also heard over the course of this conversation just how many people’s livelihoods are threatened by short-term rentals.”
While Pogue acknowledged that the regulations may impact some homeowners’ incomes, she said the ability to preserve “workforce neighborhoods” will help support “a thriving economy into the future.”
License caps, booking limits and some exceptions for residents
Jessica Potter, a senior planner for the county who helped spearhead the proposals, said the efforts are meant to strike a balance between the county’s status as a resort community and the needs of its long-term residents.
Short-term rentals are “a vital part of the tourism economy in Summit County,” Potter said. “However, they do conflict with traditional neighborhood character … there’s also impacts to housing.”
Potter said short-term rentals have supported more than 8,000 jobs in the county but also cited the findings of a 2019 housing study that highlighted how those properties can push out long-term residents. In particular, the study found that more than 14% of respondents said a landlord broke or did not renew their lease in order to convert their property into a short-term rental.
Under the approved regulations, caps on short-term rental licenses would range from 5% to 18% for the county’s various basins that are outside of town limits.
Specifically, the caps will be set at 18% for Upper Blue basin, 15% for Lower Blue, 6% for Ten Mile and 5% for Snake River. Currently, the amount of short-term rental licenses exceeds the caps in all those areas, though county officials have projected that those caps can be met within the coming years through natural attrition such as licenses not being renewed.
As of the end of 2022, those four basins accounted for 1,659 short-term rentals, according to officials. Under the new caps, that number is expected to decrease to 1,290 between 2025 and 2030.
No license caps, or any of the new regulations, will be in effect for what county officials have called “resort overlay zones,” which represent the majority of short-term rentals (63%) and include Keystone Resort and Copper Mountain Resort. The regulations only apply to neighborhood areas, which represent 37% of current rental properties.
Another prong of the commissioners’ legislation is a limit on individual bookings that short-term rental owners can make within a year. Commissioners approved a booking limit of 35, which they said aligned closely with an earlier proposal to limit the number of stays to 135 nights per year.
During a Jan. 24 meeting, commissioners scrapped the night limit in favor of a cap on bookings, which they said was aimed at reducing noise, trash and parking complaints from short-term rental neighbors. That booking cap, through past meetings, was raised from 26 to 30 before being set at 35 during the Feb. 15 meeting.
Officials estimate that, depending on the length of bookings, short-term rentals owners could push their yearly occupancy beyond the previously proposed 135-night limit, with officials adding it would be conceivable to reach more than 300 nights per year based on the booking limit.
A booking limit “puts a little more flexibility and control in the property owner’s hands,” Potter said. Nonpaying guests of rental properties, such as family and friends, will not be included in the booking cap.
Other regulatory changes include new occupancy limits in neighborhood areas set at two guests per bedroom with an additional two guests for the full booking party as well as consolidating the Type III license — which represented a small minority of short-term rental licenses — with a Type II license.
Commissioners, however, have expressed interest in creating a new license type in the future that they said could be modeled off Type III licenses — which have commonly been used for larger properties in neighborhoods that were further from homes and deemed conducive to more intense short-term use.
Amid the new regulations, commissioners also approved exceptions to the license cap for full-time county residents who work more than 30 hours per week in the county or who’ve retired and have a history of working in the county for at least 10 to 15 years — though those residents will still be subject to the 35-bookings-per-year limit.
Short-term rental licenses will also now be transferable between “parents and children, spouses or domestic partners, siblings, or grandparents and grandchildren,” according to officials.
The approved changes come less than 10 days before the county’s second short-term rental moratorium is set to end on Feb. 24. Commissioners have committed to reviewing the legislation at least once a year, though Potter said nothing would “preclude the (commissioners) from having more frequent public discussion about this.”
Criticism, praise from residents and property owners
Community members who packed the commissioners’ chamber came to speak for and against the regulations and included property managers, part-time residents and members of the county’s workforce.
Dishon Lutz, associate broker for Real Estate of the Summit and president for Summit Association of Realtors, said near-future possibilities, such as a recession and incorporation of Keystone as a town, could create economic uncertainty that may only be exacerbated by a clamp down on short-term rentals.
“Are we limiting something that could help our local economy?” Lutz asked, adding that he and other Realtors are in support of creating more workforce housing but added, “how many housing units do you anticipate creating or saving with this ordinance? Is it worth taking away the rights of property owners?”
Julia Koster, executive director for the Summit Alliance of Vacation Rental Managers, pushed back on county officials’ characterization of the extent of complaints short-term rentals cause in neighborhood areas.
According to Potter, 86% of short-term rental complaints from 2022 were in neighborhood zones, which account for just 37% of rental properties. But Koster claimed that translated to less than 180 complaints for all of last year, an amount she said was “really not that much.”
Some short-term rental owners said the regulations could hamper their ability to pay their mortgages, with some saying they took issue with feeling responsible for providing long-term housing to working residents.
“These policies … assumes that it’s the responsibility of individual property owners to bear the burden of renting below-market to locals,” said Frisco resident Amy Nakos. “It’s not and should never be the responsibility of individual property owners to subsidize housing for anyone. It’s their property. It’s their choice.”
Other community members applauded commissioners’ efforts to rein in rental properties which they said were directly tied to the shortage of affordable housing in the county.
Jim Scott, who said he rents in the Wildernest neighborhood near Silverthorne, said the county’s moratorium on issuing short-term rental licenses “has given me the opportunity to stay in my place because my landlord was wanting to potentially short-term rent it.”
Greta Shackelford, who runs Little Red Schoolhouse, a Breckenridge preschool, said the prevalence of short-term rentals has “created havoc in our neighborhood” and said trash and noise has impacted quality of life.
“I know there’s a balance that we can find, but we have to preserve some housing for locals,” Shackelford said. “I don’t want to be Vail or Aspen where everybody has to commute from an hour away.”
Julia Strzeszkowski, who said she is a renter living in a workforce housing complex, said short-term rental owners are “lucky enough to have wealth to buy what they are calling homes but what I call businesses.”
Strzeszkowski said she feels its created a culture of “I got mine, so you don’t get yours” that threatens to push more and more of the workforce out of the housing market.
Those comments illustrated what Pogue later said was the crux of the issue for short-term rental policies: a limited supply of housing.
Pogue said she believes the county is in a deficit of between 4,000 and 5,000 housing units needed to support low- and middle-income residents. By mitigating how much of the existing housing serves as a a short-term rental, Pogue said the county can provide more stable lodging.
“The first holy grail is that you protect what you have,” Pogue said. “And at the end of the day, that’s really what this short-term rental conversation is about.”
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