Summit County commissioners ban short-term rentals in the backcountry, citing safety concerns
Summit County commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to ban short-term rentals in the backcountry, citing safety concerns as well as a desire to maintain the character of the landscape.
Along with the prohibition, the commissioners approved backcountry zoning regulation changes limiting backcountry deck sizes and provided clarification on issues such as permits needed for road improvements and snow plowing.
The board approved the continuing short-term rental ban after a recommendation from the Summit County planning department. Planning director Don Reimer told the board that his staff had gathered public feedback after months of discussions. Short-term rentals are not currently regulated in Summit County, and Reimer said that a draft proposal for countywide regulations should be delivered to the board by May.
In the meantime, Reimer said he recommended a continuing prohibition on backcountry short-term rentals, based mainly on safety concerns, such as accessibility for emergency services. He also cited public concerns that an unregulated rental industry in the backcountry could ruin its character, and the fact that the move would not affect any current landowners.
“There are no short-term rentals currently in the backcountry zone, so it wouldn’t impact anybody’s right to do that,” Reimer said. “Even if it was a permitted use in the backcountry zone, there should be some criteria to ensure that the effects are mitigated.”
Reimer went on to say that a draft proposal for countywide short-term rental regulations should be ready to review by the end of May, and at that point conditional use permits for backcountry vacation rentals may be considered.
Several Summit residents spoke against the prohibition.
John Coon, who owns a home in Dry Gulch, said the ban represented a “physical stripping” of property rights.
“I just see down the line a continued limiting of what one can do on their property,” Coon said, adding the county was wasting taxpayer dollars on a non-issue. “We’re looking for solutions for problems that don’t exist.”
Barbara Vonderheid, an attorney and Summit resident, said the ban will hurt property values for backcountry homeowners, and that the county did not have any facts or findings that supported their reasons for the ban aside from an aversion to short-term rentals.
“I think that some of the decisions have been made about short-term rentals because we just think it’s a bad thing,” she noted. “It’s a politically correct thing to not like short-term rentals in Summit County.”
John Nelson, who owns a claim in French Gulch, was incensed by the fact that there were many maintenance issues in the county that are going unaddressed while the board passed a ban on a problem that hasn’t emerged yet.
“The county is trying to implement further restrictions, trying to take further land rights from us and trying to ban things that never happened,” Nelson said.
Jim Bradley was the only private citizen to speak in favor of the ban. Bradley said that while he did not own a property in the backcountry, he has seen the negative effects of short-term rentals after his neighbor started renting his house out.
“We’ve had 24 people stay in a four-bedroom house,” Bradley told the board. “They park all over the place and on our yard. We have had dirt bikes and ATVs revving up in the morning.”
Bradley added that property rights only extend as far as they do not disrupt the rights of other property owners.
“This neighbor, he is using his property rights, as he has a right to do. But it’s affecting us negatively,” Bradley said.
Mark Truckey, assistant director of community development for the town of Breckenridge, said the town supported the ban and set aside concerns that it would lower property values.
“I remember when we had discussion about house sizes in the backcountry zone in the early 2000s, there were complaints it would diminish value,” Truckey said. “But it’s all about trade-offs, like not having to pay extra for roads and protecting the character of the backcountry.”
In the end, the commissioners unanimously voted to pass the short-term rental ban along with the rest of the zoning changes.
Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier noted the effect the rentals were having in residential areas, and did not want to risk the same effect in the backcountry without setting forth regulations.
“It’s frightening what goes on with STRs in regular neighborhoods,” Stiegelmeier said. “My experience with the people who stay in short-term rentals, they hardly know what state they’re in. They’re very nice people, but they often don’t have a clue what issues we face here. They might not know what winter is, anything about safety, wildlife, trash hazards. We need to consider what impact having those same people in the backcountry would have.”
Commissioner Thomas Davidson concurred, and said that the process for short-term rentals must be cautious and deliberate, especially when it comes to the backcountry.
“I am comfortable saying that the backcountry is inappropriate for short-term rentals. We need to have a lot more conversation about what Airbnb and VRBO are doing to this county.”
Commissioner Dan Gibbs said safety was of paramount concern for his decision to vote with the other commissioners to ban short-term rentals. “In a previous life I was very involved with search and rescue,” Gibbs said. “I’m an avid trail runner and backcountry skier, and people often stop me and ask me how to get to this trailhead, how to get from point A to B. I worry about how they’d fare alone in the backcountry. I really worry about the emergency services, whether an ambulance can get to people. I worry about their life safety and welfare, and it’s a big role we have to ensure they’re safe.”
The commissioners are expecting to establish countywide rules for short-term rentals this summer, including special provisions for backcountry rentals if they are approved.
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