Summit County commissioners decline to close lodging facilities
Officials also discuss relief efforts for area businesses, including restaurants
KEYSTONE — The Summit County Board of Health on Tuesday, Nov. 24, discussed the possibility of temporarily closing short-term lodging in order to discourage visitors from coming to the area — an idea that none of the commissioners felt was necessary.
Currently, short-term lodging facilities are required to limit bookings to one household.
County Manager Scott Vargo said the Summit County Sheriff’s Department has assigned officers to the “public health order beat” and that those officers already have started identifying lodging facilities that are not following the restrictions.
“There have been some other conversations in the community around the idea of an even more aggressive approach around lodging,” Vargo said. “The thought being, perhaps there’s a shutdown of lodging for a couple of weeklong periods while we’re in level red.”
Public Health Director Amy Wineland said closing lodging wouldn’t have a big impact on case numbers.
“I don’t think closing one industry at this point is really going to make an impact given the widespread community transmission that’s happening not only here but everywhere really,” she said.
Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said she wouldn’t support shutting down lodging because it would take more jobs away from people in the county.
“Do two wrongs make a right?” she said. “We’ve got the restaurant industry without a job, now let’s take away lodging jobs. That’s just creating more trouble.”
Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier added that the lodging industry workforce involves a lot of behind-the-scenes people, who often work paycheck to paycheck.
“They’re kind of unseen and unknown, but the property management companies have a lot of employees that are making a living,” she said. “It is an important part of our workforce that we’ve kind of taken for granted as it’s evolved.”
Help for restaurants
With restaurants impacted by the new level red restrictions, which prohibit indoor dining, Summit County officials are working to provide relief in a number of ways.
To help restaurants adjust to the changes, the Summit Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved an amendment to the county’s Land Use and Development Code at a meeting Tuesday, creating an expedited process allowing restaurants in unincorporated Summit County the ability to use temporary structures, or tents, for outdoor dining.
Before the amendment was approved, businesses would have to enter into a “temporary use permit” approval process that could take anywhere from 15-21 days and $500 to $985 depending on the type of permit.
The amendment reduces the approval process to seven days and waives any fees associated with the permit, Senior Planner Dan Osborn said. The amendment is planned to be in place until April, 30.
“Part of what we’re trying to do is to create some additional space for restaurants, businesses, commercial enterprises so that they can expand to outdoor areas and increase their seating capacity,” Osborn said.
He added that the capacity limitations for the actual structures will be dictated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. According to state guidance, a tent must have two nonadjacent sides open to allow air flow in order to be considered “outdoors.”
The code also allows businesses to place fire pits and heating units in the structures. Business owners will have to get additional approval from the fire districts to have fire pits in the outdoor areas.
At a Board of Health meeting Tuesday, the commissioners also discussed other options for relief for businesses throughout the county. The county plans to use a portion of the $1.8 million, which it received as part of CARES Act funding from the state, to help businesses offset costs associated with the changes.
The county is still in the process of assembling a community work group, which will help inform how the money is allocated.
“Hopefully, very early next week, we’ll be able to have a meeting with that group, and it will depend on that group how quickly we’ll be able to identify where are the areas of greatest need,” Vargo said.
Vargo said the county and town governments also have considered pooling together the CARES Act money to allocate as much as possible to local businesses.
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