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Council now favoring a 120-night cap on STRs

Vote could come at February 6 meeting

by Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte Town Council has still not made a decision on how to address short-term rentals (STRs) in town, but it appears the council might take a vote on the issue at its February 6 meeting.

After the latest hour-and-a-half public discussion about the topic on Tuesday evening, a majority of councilmembers are now leaning toward imposing a 120-night limit for nearly all property owners in town who short-term rent their houses to visiting vacationers.

Essentially, deed-restricted affordable housing units in Crested Butte would not be allowed to be short-termed but almost everything else in town would be, including units in zones that presently prohibit STRs. As it has developed, the ordinance would not allow STRs in the R2A, parts of T, B1 with some exceptions, B2, C, AO and P zones.

It was acknowledged by town staff earlier this month that the majority of homes in Crested Butte currently have the legal right to be rented for an unlimited number of nights. Under the proposed ordinance being considered by the council, those property owners would need to hold a STR BOLT (business occupancy license tax) license before the proposed ordinance comes into effect, possibly sometime this winter, to keep that unlimited rental status. They would then need to keep the license active by short-term renting their property at least once every six months or lose their non-conforming use standing; the property would then be held to the 120-night limit.

Of the 255 active STR licenses in town, 199 currently fall into the unlimited rental category. There has been some concern voiced that this ordinance will lead to another run on STR BOLT licenses by property owners who want to get their foot in the door and avoid any limit on the number of nights they can short-term rent their property.

Many people with property in town zones where STRs are not currently allowed would legally be permitted to rent their property for a maximum of 120 days under the proposed ordinance. In another twist, the town has historically issued STR BOLT licenses to property inside the prohibited zones and the council on Tuesday heard emotional comments from people who said they depend on that rental income to be able to live in Crested Butte.

That, and an argument from local restaurant owner Kevin Hartigan, seemed to sway some councilmembers from imposing a lower figure on the STR cap.

Members of the public again spoke for and against the proposed ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting. Many of the sentiments expressed for the last several months were reiterated. Some people see a low cap with a 30- to 60-day limit on STRs as a means of protecting local neighborhoods and the sense of community. Others argue that using STRs for income streams allow them to live in Crested Butte and provide jobs for people in the community.

Nicole Blaser’s house is in the R-4 zone of town; she said she counts on the income from renting the property 170 to 190 days a year. If the council maxed her out at 120 nights, she said she might have to sell the property and move away, having been an active member of the community since 1999.

“This ability to vacation rental helps me craft my life in Crested Butte,” Blaser said. “This proposed change is like having the rug pulled out from under me. It would have a big impact on my life. I’m a human being, not just a number or a house. Consider an exception for locals who actually live here, especially those of us without a financial cushion.”

Sue Navy said the council should make a decision based on the town being a community and not just an investment. “Think about if the Silvanite condos were all short-termed with different property managers. It would be a Tower of Babel. It would be frightening,” Navy said.

“I firmly believe in this community,” said Hartigan, an owner of The Last Steep restaurant. “Why can’t we embrace the fact we are a tourist community? It is really hard to run a business in this town. To me, heavily limiting the numbers really limits my potential income for my family and workers. It is disappointing that there is a presumption by some of selfishness and greed for people who rent a bed in town and make some extra income. This is a tourist economy whether you like it or not.”

“Most of us were shocked to find out at the last meeting that most of the town has unlimited rental capability,” said Harvey Castro. “Given there are so many potential rental nights in these particular zones already, I’d suggest keeping a low limit on property outside of that zone.”

“It is difficult to appease everyone,” admitted Jeff Scott. “But I’d like you to make a decision supporting community and neighborhoods. And I’d say keep the STR limit low at 30 or 60 days max so you can measure the impacts. It is easier to raise the limit than bring it down.”

Attorney Marcus Lock is representing several local property owners and laid out a number of concerns with the proposed ordinance that he indicated could give the town some legal heartburn. He also said the town did not do a good job in being transparent in the process by making it easy for citizens to review and evaluate changes to the ordinance.

Jim Starr asked the council to not be afraid of potential lawsuits and asked the council to protect the community in an uncertain future. “We already have a lawsuit. That happens more often when people with money that don’t understand the community values come in and try to insert their ways,” he said.

At the request of property owners on the most western block on Elk Avenue, the council agreed that the B-4 zoned block should fall under B-3 business zoning (it was previously zoned B-3) and be in the unlimited STR category.

Councilman Jim Schmidt said this issue was the most difficult in his many years on the council. But being a “compromise guy,” he advocated for a 120-night STR cap on all zones in town.

Councilman Roland Mason again expressed his fear of a future where a corporation would come into town and purchase several properties on the same block and turn them all into STRs. But after listening to the public, he too felt imposing a 120-night cap was fair and would keep his concern in check.

Councilmember Laura Mitchell wanted to take more time to consider the issue and didn’t want to pull the rug out from people. She said she was leaning toward the 120-night maximum.

Councilmember Paul Merck said he appreciated the ongoing discussion that changed weekly and preferred to gather more information. He said he didn’t like the 120-night cap or the ordinance as written.

Councilman Jackson Petito said he preferred limiting the number of units in town that could be rented as opposed to limiting the number of nights a unit could be short-termed. If that wasn’t possible, he said he preferred a lower limit that could be raised but could go along with the 120-night cap.

Councilman Chris Ladoulis said he wanted the council to actually make a decision relatively soon and was okay with the 120-night figure.

Mayor Glenn Michel again said he would still prefer a cap of 90 rental days per unit.

Because the council agreed to allow property in the B-4 zone to come under the same STR regulations as the B-3 zone the staff asked for additional time to write that into the proposed ordinance. So the council will again look at the ordinance and possibly vote on the issue at the February 6 council meeting.

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