Summit County issues — transportation, housing, increase in short-term rentals — roll into Park County
Commissioners from both counties met to brainstorm possible solutions
Summit County can be a tough place to live for many locals. Steep housing costs is one reason why people choose to leave the community, and in some cases, they relocate to bordering counties. Such is the case for Park County.
Park and Summit counties have a close relationship for this reason. Some locals choose to live in Alma or Fairplay, both of which sit just outside of Breckenridge and Blue River, and commute to work to Summit County. Summit County’s Summit Stage bus system has a route that goes into both of these Park County towns to support workers coming over the Hoosier Pass.
While the two counties seem to have a working relationship, they also experience similar issues. When the Summit Stage cut its hours last year, that impacted Park County residents who work in Summit. Park County is also experiencing similar housing issues, and more recently, is experiencing an uptick in the number of short-term rentals within its borders.
To get ahead of some of these issues, commissioners from both Park and Summit counties met during a Summit Board of County Commissioners’ work session meeting on Tuesday, July 19.
One of the first issues that Park County Commissioner Dick Elsner brought up was the lack of Summit Stage service to Fairplay and Alma — the Park County Commuter route currently runs three trips a day each direction over the pass. He said that the traffic on Colorado Highway 9 has reached pre-pandemic levels and wanted to know where Summit was at with staffing these routes to where they were before.
Last year, Summit County’s commissioners gave the go-ahead for the Summit Stage to cut down its hours from every 30 minutes to hourly. Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said for some areas, services were cut even more than that.
“That’s been cut back a bit just because we’re in a severe driver shortage,” Lawrence said. “I believe right now we’re short 18 full-time drivers, which is pretty significant. So here in Summit County, we were running half-hour services and recently changed that to hourly service, and some places at night, we’ve run two-hour service because we’re so short on drivers.”
Summit County Commissioner Josh Blanchard also pointed out that the drivers of these routes begin their shift in Park County. That means that a Summit County driver has a considerable commute to begin their shift, and Blanchard said this is making it extra difficult to staff up.
Elsner said he empathized with these issues and that he thought housing also played a part into hiring for these positions. He said recently he’s noticed a trend in Park County where homes are getting sold “for a whole lot of money” and that these buyers are increasingly second homeowners or buyers planning to flip the home into a short-term rental.
Lawrence, who lives in Breckenridge, said she’s heard of friends and neighbors — many of whom have lived in Park County for a decade or more — who now frequently complain about how these units are impacting their daily lives.
“Hearing from the gal that owns the massage therapy studio, she was like, ‘We got our doorbell (rung) at 11 p.m., and it was a car that was stuck. We thought that’s weird, but then it happened at 10 p.m. and at 7 p.m. and it kept happening all winter long of rental cars,’” Lawrence said. “And it turns out there were new (short-term rentals) out in their area … there’s no cell phone service so her husband is out pulling them out. So then they decided (to) start charging to pull people out because what do you do? At some point, you run out of your good neighborliness.”
Elsner said he wasn’t surprised and that he had recently heard from one stakeholder about how his neighborhood was now 75% short-term rentals.
Currently, there are some regulations Park County has in place to mitigate the trend. Elsner said the county doesn’t allow off-street parking, that it requires protected trash and that it doesn’t allow outdoor fires. But even then, he and some of the other commissioners said they were having difficulty wrangling short-term rental use.
In one instance, Elsner said there was an individual in Park County who was renting an A-frame home and advertising it as sleeping 28 people.
Park County Commissioner Amy Mitchell also agreed that she’s seeing her community evolve as more residences turn into short-term rentals.
“Short-term rentals are changing the complexion of our neighborhoods,” she said.
Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue acknowledged these comments and said she doesn’t want to see the issues in Summit County get pushed into Park County.
“I would definitely say, from Summit County’s perspective, I would encourage folks to be ahead of it, not behind it,” she said. “It’s really hard to put the genie back in the bottle once it’s out — so however we can be helpful — but we certainly don’t want to see what’s happening in our community happen to you all.”
The conservation about short-term rentals eventually evolved into housing, or the lack thereof. Elsner reported a trend in Park County’s real estate market that was similar to Summit’s.
“The houses don’t stay on the market very long,” Elsner said. “I was talking to one Realtor and he said it’s starting to change now. He said … houses were selling for $150,000 over the listing price.”
Pogue said she was interested in a “cross-county collaboration” with Park County in the future. All three Summit County commissioners voiced support for a future project, and Park County’s commissioners responded positively.
There were no plans set as for what that would look like in the future, but both entities agreed that they would like to go after state funding for housing projects if possible.
“It’s a very difficult conversation because of the economic value that short-term rentals bring to our community,” Pogue said. “At the same time, if you don’t have a workforce that lives here, you can’t have an economy at all.”
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