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The Buena Vista Board of Trustees was fairly busy at their regular meeting on Tuesday, September 28, approving a long-debated ordinance on short-term rentals (STRs). They also appointed a new member to the Chaffee Housing Authority Board of Directors, and saw a preview of the town’s 2022 budget.

The board began with a work session on the 2022 budget. Department heads, including Police Chief Dean Morgan, Airport Manager Jack Wyles, and Planning Director Joseph Teipel, presented a summary of and their highlights from the past year and their expectations, challenges, key changes for 2022.

Buena Vista Town Hall. Photo by Henry DeKam

Town Administrator Phillip Puckett reported the town is planning to increase staffing capacities in the Police Department and in Public Works to keep up with growth and wants to maintain a competitive pay to keep pace with the rising cost of living in the area. In addition, Puckett pointed to the board’s strategic goals for 2021 and 2022, including establishing a strategy for the landfill, addressing water conservation planning, and identifying more strategies for public outreach and public relations.

Many of the departments reported aging facilities and a lack of space for growing staff as a concern for the upcoming year. Police Chief Morgan reported that the department doesn’t have a training space and relies on local schools opening their facilities when hosting large training sessions. Airport Manager Wyles touched on aging hangars and hangars, as well as growing staffing needs, and Recreation Director Earl Richmond pointed to their own troubles with older buildings and facilities as well as the growing market for youth events/opportunities with a limited number of parents and volunteers available to facilitate them.

The Board began their regular meeting by approving minutes from the previous meeting, the Recreation Advisory Board, and the Water Advisory Board. They also approved the Town Clerk’s August report. Of the 17 new business licenses issued that month, 10 were for short-term rentals, nine of which are out-of-county applicants. The board also adopted the Board of Trustees Handbook.

The board also heard and unanimously voted on the Chaffee Housing Authority’s nomination of Michal Rosenoer to fill the current vacancy on their Board of Directors.

“There were excellent candidates for the open position to represent Buena Vista on the Chaffee Housing Authority Board of Directors,” said Becky Gray, Director of the Chaffee Housing Authority. The board reviewed a number of applicants’ submissions and qualifications before nominating Rosenoer. “We were really pleased to land on Michal Rosenoer, who has extensive experience in local government and in representing equity in those conversations, which includes housing challenges.”

Recreation Grant Applications

The board also heard and voted on a number of resolutions to support the Recreation Department’s grant applications. The Rec Department and the Trails Advisory Board are applying for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Non-Motorized Trail Grant to support “much-needed improvements to the Whipple Trail system as well as enhancements and upgrades to our Whipple Bridge trailhead area.” It also covered the Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant to support the construction of a new six-court Pickleball facility, the completion of the accessible Walton Loop Trail, informational kiosks, and the creation of the new Tater Tots singletrack trail, “all of which are high priority projects in [the] River Park Site Plan.”

The board voted unanimously to approve both grant applications, which were followed by a letter of support from the town for the county’s application for the Great Outdoors Colorado All-Lands Camping Plan grant application. The board voted to approve signing the letter, as well.

“The All-Lands Camping Plan Accelerator and Chaffee Recreation Adopters Phase II programs were developed through a 29-month collaborative process engaging this municipality, other local governments, land management agencies, nonprofit organizations, and citizens,” writes Town Administrator Phillip Puckett in the letter. “The need is urgent. Citizens are concerned about the impacts of increasing recreation use to the quality of experiences, the health of local rivers, wildlife and water quality, and the risk of human-caused wildfire, related to camping. At the same time, recreation tourism is critical to the local economy and quality of life, and so developing collaborative solutions to ensure sustainable growth is an exciting opportunity.”

Short-term Rental Code Changes

The Trustees held a public hearing on the long-debated changes to Articles II and VII of Chapter 6 of the Buena Vista Municipal Code regarding short-term rentals. The request points out that the intentions of the new changes to the code are intended to “ease some of the negative externalities that STRs may have on ‘community feel’ especially in residential zone districts” and “address uncontrolled outside speculation that may cause a precipitous rise in STRs or that ties up potential long-term housing.” The new changes include a six percent cap on out-of-county licenses, a three percent cap on in-county licenses for non-primary residences, and a “minor change” to language that clarifies licenses will be considered out-of-county if the property owner is an entity.

Among public commenters, some brought up concerns that the growing abundance of STRs was having an impact on locals’ ability to find long-term housing. Catherine Eichel, a small-business owner and long-time resident of Buena Vista, said she has a number of friends who had been forced out of town due to the shortage of long-term rental options, and that she is concerned the same may be in the future for her. After losing her housing last year, it took her nine months to find a new rental.

“We don’t have the data, the full spectrum of how many long-term rentals are available,” said Eichel. She pointed out that she, like many small business owners in the valley, can’t afford to buy a home here. “I’m in this whole sector of the middle income. We can’t find anything to rent, we can’t buy anything, and you’re losing us. You’re losing people with 10 to 15 years of experience. You’re losing small business owners. We’re leaving this county… I will also probably be forced to leave in, probably within the next few years.”

Others had concerns about the difficulties some of the changes would place on STR operators whose properties are held as LLCs or estates, as well as the impact on out-of-county licensees who intend to pay for their property by running it as a short-term rental.

Linda Barbeau, another resident and STR operator, said that the three percent cap on non-owner-occupied homes for in-county licenses hurts local homeowners.

“If you don’t raise that cap, it could be years before the attrition rate that you’re counting on will allow for more units,” she said. “This is extremely unfair to local residents who have their home in an LLC for legal protection of their assets or a revocable family trust for estate planning. These are very common ways that individuals take title, and I find it hard to understand why the town would want to interfere in a resident’s estate planning and the protection of their assets or penalize a local person who is simply trying to protect their assets.”

After a brief discussion, the board unanimously approved the changes. “It may not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Town Clerk Paula Barnett during the Trustee-Staff Interaction. Barnett’s sentiments seemed to be echoed by others at the meeting, as did a reminder that there is still room to make changes in the future.

The meeting adjourned at 9:25 p.m., with the next regular meeting scheduled for October 12, 2021, at 7:00 p.m.. All trustee meetings are open to the public and are held at 715 East Main Street. Agendas, packets, and past meetings’ minutes can be found online.