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In a unanimous decision on Tuesday, the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) approved a new ordinance setting a cap of six percent of county housing stock within unincorporated Chaffee County allowed to be licensed as short-term rentals (STRs), often known as “vacation rental by owner.”

“I move to approve the ordinance for the operation of STRs in the unincorporated portions of Chaffee County, with the understanding that this is subject to quarterly review to have the opportunity to implement additional knowledge and insight as necessary,” said Commissioner Keith Baker. He was seconded by Commissioner Rusty Granzella.

The actual annual cap will be determined based on the total number of residential housing units within the county as of Aug. 1 of each year. New STR owners will now be required to be full-time residents of the county.

As of this week, the total number of licensed STRs allowed in unincorporated Chaffee County is 310; a limit that the county is quickly approaching, after the past two years of rapid STR proliferation.

“We set it at 310. There were 66 actively renting, but not licensed in the county, and 240 licensed,”  said Assistant County Attorney Daniel Tom. “Since that time we’ve had 280 total apply that are approved.”

“it’s a first-come, first-serve application status,” he added. “We were at four percent before, now we’re close to six percent.”

Photo by Tierra-Mallorca for Unsplash.

The BoCC, which had earlier established a 180-day moratorium on STRs to allow time to develop a more permanent solution, made a point of saying that this ordinance is still considered “a temporary solution,” until the county can address it in the new Chaffee County Land Use Code (LUC). But in the same session, they determined that the new LUC code will not be ready until Q2, 2023.

“This is damage control – right now we have to stop the flooding,” said Baker. “This isn’t the ultimate fix, it will be the Land Use Code. Nobody thinks this is the end document.”

The BoCC had a discussion about how to define “temporary”, suggesting time frames as short as next May, to Sept. 2022, with Commissioner Greg felt saying he was fine with leaving it open-ended. In the end, they decided to frame the motion approving it with a quarterly review of the ordinance status and the STR situation.

During the public hearing (it was not actually communicated as an official public hearing in either of the county’s official agendas available on the county website for the Sept. 7 meeting, which may have impacted the number of those present to make comments) only a few commented, primarily to raise concerns over the lack of operational standards required of STRs, safety problems, and the absence of actual geographic data regarding the location of STRs in unincorporated Chaffee County.

“While it certainly commendable that you have made a decision to limit the sale of STRs to county residents, do you even know how many STRs there are in rural neighborhoods, in the wards that you were elected to represent?  There does not appear to have been a geographic analysis of the areas where high numbers of STRs are clustering. If you don’t know this, I submit that you shouldn’t be passing even a temporary blanket ordinance,” said Chalk Creek Canyon resident Jan Wondra.

Another member of the public commented on the apparent lack of standards of conduct for STR visitors, unlike other youth camps, hotels, motels, and B&Bs in the county which follow rules for quiet times, and pool and hot spring hours of operation. The lack of respect for nearby private property and safety rules for county fire bans, appeared to concern the BoCC and staff.

“The type of facility used as an STR should be looked at, said Randy Peters. “I’ve seen ads for teepees and trailers — not sure that is appropriate. A major item is the density of the STRs within clusters. That is something the county needs to address – I’m inundated with them where I live.”

Commissioners pointed out that area towns such as Salida are paying attention to their sense of community within neighborhoods; setting requirements of how many STRs can be within a neighborhood area and even on a street.

Photo y Tierra Mallorca for Unsplash.

Some things are still not quite clear. Baker asked, “Is there a cap on how many properties one entity can own? Say they set up an LLC … how many properties can that LLC can have? What about a single owner application for one property, and then someone has 18 and they are running it as a big business?”

“Is there a difference between a sale and an inherited property?” asked Commissioner Greg Felt.

“It’s transferable, a right to property…if someone dies and their kids get it, doesn’t mean it will stay local,” said Attorney Tom. He added, “People with current licenses will be allowed to renew, they’re not technically grandfathered. But a transfer of that property if they live out of county, the license won’t transfer.”

During the discussion, the desirability of an onsite owner (a resident renting out a room or structure on the property they live on), as opposed to offsite ownership, was raised. One of the major problems the county has experienced is related to the lack of any local contacts when problems occur.

Tom said, “I’ve considered what [has been brought up]. I’ve been in touch with Mt. Crested Butte on these issues too … we want to let these STR owners know they’re responsible for these people’s behavior…. this brings in enforcement. We’ve gone from 150 [STRs] to almost double in two years. Going out to check for enforcement is a big issue…most of the [infractions] happen at night…. when you can’t get anyone to respond to it.”

Tom added that the county will need to work on analyzing the data regarding the county’s clusters of STRs “to make [an ordinance] broad enough to set caps on how many are in each neighborhood, like the Chalk Creek neighborhood, or Mesa [Antero], or outside Buena Vista. The elegant approach would have been 25 to 30 pages — that takes time, but wouldn’t allow us to address the main issue right now.”

The need to quickly develop the process for code enforcement, and to handle neighbor’s complaints, was raised. Staff and BoCC agreed that the county’s goal is to find permanent solutions and this new ordinance is a temporary solution.  There is a need to balance the competing elements of neighbor’s property rights, with other neighbors who may be relying on STRs to live here.

“I just want to remind you all of the crisis of housing we are in – step back a bit,” said Director of Housing Becky Gray. “A recent survey conducted by the CCCF (Chaffee County Community Foundation) surveying employers around housing and childcare found that 57 percent had at least one employee living in their car or a tent.”