Mt. CB council to consider short-term rental moratorium

Special work session July 26 at the Elevation

By Kendra Walker

After hearing public input regarding short-term rentals (STR) and the local housing crisis, the Mt. Crested Butte town council plans to hold a special work session on July 26 at 5 p.m. at the Elevation Hotel to discuss workforce housing and STR regulations, and possibly determine whether to place a moratorium on new STR licenses.  

During a work session on July 6, the council continued their conversation on updating the town’s STR license program. While the town still has many decisions to make regarding regulation and enforcement updates (application process, compliance and enforcement, neighbor complaint process, etc.) the discussion focused heavily on how STRs are affecting the local affordable housing market for local employees. There are currently 557 individual STR units in Mt. Crested Butte, not including hotel units. 

Council member Lauren Koelliker suggested the council consider putting a cap on STR licenses, similar to the town of Crested Butte. “We’re operating in an extreme right now. In one extreme you can ban all STRs, another extreme you can have unlimited STRs. We don’t have caps. We have an unlimited number of STRs available,” she said. 

“I have real concerns about that because of people buying things for investment purposes. That’s part of what our community is,” said mayor Janet Farmer. She also noted that if the council were to consider a cap on STRs, it should be for specific areas of town. “Gold Link isn’t going to long-term rent,” she said. 

“If we’re talking about values and community, our job isn’t to make somebody’s investment property work,” said council member Roman Kolodziej.  

“But it’s also not to crash their investment,” said council member Michael Bacani.

“There’s also people in the middle,” noted council member Nicholas Kempin.

Council member Dwayne Lehnertz felt STRs and workforce housing were two different issues that require different solutions.

“How does limiting STRs help solve that problem?” he asked.

“We don’t know if it does,” said Farmer. 

“To say it doesn’t affect anything is irresponsible,” said Kolodziej. 

“I’m not implying in any way, shape or form that it doesn’t have an effect. I’m questioning how robust a response do you need to throw at it to change it and what change are you trying to accomplish?” asked Lehnertz.

Later on in the discussion, Lehnertz explained his personal experience as a property owner, having bought his property in 2013 in the ballpark of $200,000. “I took advantage of it…I got my foot in the door. I knew full well what I was getting into, I was getting into a resort town, it’s what I chose…If I can do it anybody can do it,” he said, a statement that did not go over well with the public in attendance for the meeting. 

“We also have this emergency and I think we need to take the slower approach and get all our ducks in a row,” said Kempin. “I don’t think we should be making rash decisions like our pants are on fire.”

“I don’t disagree,” said Kolodziej. “I would also caution us for being too slow…everybody sitting at this table has a place to live long-term. Something needs to be done shorter-term.”

Town manager Isa Reeb said the town staff is working on internal items that can help them proactively enforce current STR rules, including updating the technology, a better complaint process and a new town website that will free up staff’s time overall. She suggested that more strict enforcement rules would help, such as communication to residents about how to make complaints about STR noncompliance, and updating the ordinance to put a fine on those in noncompliance. “We cannot spend eight hours of staff time every week just on short-term rental compliance. Fines would help us as a staff.” 

Council members also noted that HOA boards can decide to nix STRs or require a letter of approval, which is done by some HOAs in Mt. Crested Butte. 

A handful of folks from the public attended the meeting, and the discussion carried over into public comment. All appeared in favor of making changes to STRs to help with the housing situation. Several members of the public urged the council to place a moratorium on short-term rental licenses to allow the town time to figure out the best path forward. 

Kat Laughlin, who’s worked at the resort for six years, explained that there’s no way she’d be able to afford to buy a place in Mt. CB. “In the last four years I’ve lived here on the mountain, I’ve lost my house twice to short-term rentals,” she said. “That’s the impact that it’s making.”

Alexander Summerfelt encouraged Mt. Crested Butte to follow the town of Crested Butte’s lead. “Residents of town work up on the mountain and vice versa. Business owners on the mountain live in town and vice versa. The community here is one, driven and sustained by all the same forces. We face the same housing crisis together,” he said. “The town of Crested Butte has sprung into action, declaring a state of emergency. I would like you all to do the same.”

Josh Egedy asked the council to put their personal positions aside or recuse themselves from the discussion based on a conflict of interest. “You need to explore the impact of short-term rentals further. Look at other towns. It isn’t a request to end short-term rentals, it’s simply a challenge to hit the pause button and figure out how to make it work best for your constituents.”

“We’re talking about residents, the people that vote for you,” said Laura Puckett-Daniels. “Not investors in Arkansas and other places. It’s taking long-term rentals off the market…it damages your sense of community…Short-term rentals decrease the quality of life for all of us.” 

“Can we all just say ditto,” chimed in someone from the public, followed by claps and approval. 

Elliott Selzer shared his personal experience of Airbnb-ing one of the rooms of the place he and his wife own and live in. “It’s made it more affordable to live in this place that really doesn’t qualify as affordable housing…as a person looking to invest here or in the future this is not the community I want to buy property in,” he said, noting the restaurants and shops in the area cutting hours and closing altogether. He explained that he decided to get rid of his Airbnb and rent it long-term. “It’s costing me more money, but at least I can make my community a little closer to what it was originally…I’m willing to give mine up for that.”

“Thank you all for being here tonight. This is a very important topic for our community,” said mayor Janet Farmer. “We all hear your pain, your distress, your concerns. We’re listening and we’ll have to see where this goes. This is not a quick easy process to straighten out this mess. We’ll be working on it and will have you in our hearts.”

At the end of the meeting, Kolodziej brought up the topic again and asked the council if they would be open to putting a moratorium on new STR licenses to allow the town time for more research to consider additional regulations.

According to town clerk Tiffany O’Connell, the town received 12 new STR license applications in June and three in July, but she clarified that she does not know which ones were because of a change in ownership. 

“I think we can continue the conversation,” said Bacani. “If that means having another discussion, by all means I would be all for that.” 

Town attorney Kathy Fogo advised the council that if they were to place a moratorium, it would need to last at least six months in order to accomplish the additional info gathering and decision-making needed. 

Koelliker stressed the importance of engaging with the public and gathering more community input on the topic. During their June 15 meeting, the public input came mostly from STR property owners heavily in favor of not placing any moratoriums, caps or changes to STRs. “I don’t think we can conclude that we now know what people think about STRs at this point. We need to have a more robust public hearing on that where the public can actually speak,” she said.

The council agreed to hold a special work session on July 26 at 5 p.m. at the Elevation Hotel to discuss workforce housing and short-term rental regulations. Due to a few council members’ schedules, their regular July 20 town council meeting is cancelled.

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