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In what many residents believe is a long overdue action, the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) on Tuesday unanimously passed on first hearing a resolution to place a temporary moratorium on the issuance of short-term rental (STR) licenses in unincorporated Chaffee County. The resolution places a temporary cap on the acceptance, submission, processing, and issuance of short-term rental licenses pending consideration of an ordinance regulating the activity.

The BoCC believes that circumstances warrant the immediate enactment of a temporary cap for one hundred eighty (180) days or until a decision is made finalizing an ordinance on issuing STR licenses that exceed six percent of the housing units available or three hundred and ten (310) total licenses in a given  year. Once licenses reach those annual limits a year, this will trigger a temporary moratorium similar to the one that this new temporary resolution authorizes.

Some in the county say the action is long overdue, as scenic areas of the county such as Chalk Creek Canyon and county land surrounding Buena Vista have filled with out-of-county buyers, purchasing homes as investments, then turning them into short-term rentals.

Photo by Alex Block. Image courtesy of Unsplash

In fact, until 2020, the county did not appear to even know how many short-term rentals there were in unincorporated areas. In late 2019 when Ark Valley Voice asked Chaffee Planner Christie Barton for statistics for this commercial activity in rural-zoned areas, she admitted that the county didn’t know. But she said the county was implementing a license registration program, “to get a handle on this and make sure all of them can meet public health standards.”

The county’s Land Use Code (LUC) regulates STRs under Vacation Rental by Owner (“VRBO”) in Article 2, 7 and 15. Under the LUC Article 15, a VRBO is defined as the short-term rental (30 days or less) of all or a portion of a residential structure.

The county has documented issues with enforcement of STRs under the Chaffee County Land Use Code. It has been particularly concerned that county staff have been unable to easily contact non-resident short-term rental owners concerning Land Use or Building Code violations, or during public health and safety emergencies.

Violations by short-term rental occupants have created public safety hazards in unincorporated areas, with instances where they have illegally built fire rings near trees and neighbor’s property lines, then set untended campfires.

Just as concerning to the county as the public safety concerns about STRs, is the pressure this has placed on local housing stock. The county’s temporary cap resolution notes that the county will consider an ordinance to address adverse impacts that STRs have on neighboring residences and the community at large.

“Such impacts include, but are not limited to establishing unsustainable real estate price pressure for present and future local area wage earners, a scarcity of affordable housing options within the unincorporated areas of Chaffee County, a reduction in the number of housing units available to present and future local area wage earners, and diminished neighborhoods and community character and desirability, all of which may damage the public health, safety, and welfare,” reads the county’s resolution.

According to county statistics:

  • Currently, county staff is receiving an average of ten (10) new STR applications a month.
  • Chaffee County has issued licenses or received applications for one hundred eighty-five (185) STR licenses
    in 2021 (combination of license renewals and new licenses).
  • These licenses constitute four percent of the county’s currently available 5,132 housing units.
  • Additionally, the county says there are seventy-five (75) non-compliant STRs, which if compliant would bring the county’s total to two hundred sixty (260) STRs; constituting approximately five percent of the county’s currently available housing units.
  • The county is just beginning to track the STR units by location, but already has indicated that some areas, such as lower Chalk Creek Canyon, are seeing large clusters of STRs in areas that traditionally considered themselves as rural neighborhoods (already far exceeding a six percent cap for the geographic area); disrupting the rural neighborhood feel of the areas.
  • Some rural Chaffee residents report “feeling surrounded by STRs.”

Photo y Tierra Mallorca for Unsplash.

County staff believes the pace of STR applications, particularly from outside-the-county buyers applying for STR licenses even before their purchases are final, is accelerating.

Some county residents point out that there is a big difference between a county resident renting out a room of their home on VRBO, which preserves the neighborhood, versus non-residents buying up homes to turn them into STR commercial enterprises.

The city of Salida has recently enacted a temporary moratorium on STRs in the commercial zone (it already has a cap for residential areas), and Buena Vista is considering one as well.

While Chaffee is at long-last taking steps to deal with STRs on unincorporated county land, the Vail Town Council on Tuesday backed away from an emergency, 90-day moratorium on new short-term rentals, but agreed to go ahead with a study to learn more about short-term rental impacts in town.

The Vail study will include the town’s registration fee structure and the impacts on long-term rentals in town. Short-term rentals make up 14 percent of Vail’s non-resort housing stock.

On Thursday, Routt County, home of Steamboat Springs, followed suit with a temporary moratorium on short-term rentals, with similar language, that they want to get a handle on what is going on and are concerned about available housing stock for the county’s workforce.

Featured image: Photo by Tierra-Mallorca for Unsplash.