Mt. Crested Butte council weighs public concerns over STR regs

To place a moratorium or not?

[ By Kendra Walker ]

While it’s still unclear whether or not the Mt. Crested Butte town council will place a moratorium on new short-term rentals (STRs), it’s clear they are concerned about the unanswered questions and community impacts of STRs and are making an effort to hear from all sides of the community.

During a special town council meeting on Monday, July 26, the council provided the public an opportunity to voice their concerns about STRs and the valley-wide housing crisis, discussed regulatory changes to the STR license program, and weighed the pros and cons of issuing a moratorium on new STR licenses.

However, no decisions were made. “All of us need time to process what we hear and learn this evening,” said mayor Janet Farmer. She also noted the importance of finding a balance between full-time, part-time, and tourist needs.

As of June, there are 613 STR licenses in Mt. Crested Butte and since January 1 the town has received 36 requests for new licenses. A staff memo to the council reads, “Currently we have 28 pending applications, however a few recent applications were submitted just in case a moratorium went into place.”

The majority of the 70-80 attendees on Monday were in favor of issuing a moratorium on STRs. The town also received more than 50 emails prior to the meeting, mostly voicing against a moratorium or any changes to STRs in general.

In favor
Speaking as a Pitchfork resident, not as community development director for the town of Crested Butte, Troy Russ strongly encouraged the town to put a moratorium on STRs to study the economic and neighborhood stability effects. “STRs have a profound impact on our neighborhood community, our neighborhood quality of life…STRs is not a property right, it’s a license…I believe we have too many STRs in town and we need to understand its impact because I think Mt. Crested Butte should be focused on creating community…”
Later, speaking on behalf of the town of Crested Butte, Russ explained that the CB council approved a moratorium on STRs earlier this month so the town could do a detailed housing study. He also reiterated his appreciation for the two towns’ continued collaboration, “We want to continue our pledge to work together.”

Patrick Church, Crested Butte planner, agreed. “Our houses are not being used for housing, so if we can make our houses available for housing we can take steps toward [solving] the housing crisis. But we can’t do that if they’re being used as hotels.”

Cooper McNealus said he is going to be homeless in about a week. “It’s really tough right now looking for a place to live and I want a fair shot just like everybody else…Right now I have to go through applications with 40 other people kind of listing our qualities so they can pick the best one and the free market is not in favor of anybody who’s lost their housing right now.”

Bob Colvey, who is on the HOA for Overlook, said the first question he gets from most interested homebuyers in that neighborhood is, “’Can I short-term rent it?’ Not, ‘can I become part of the community?’” He urged the council, “Pump the brakes, call a timeout, enact a moratorium.”

“I am not here to argue that one segment of our population is bad. I think all of these segments of our population are valuable,” said Laura Puckett-Daniels. “Visitors are valuable, part-time residents are valuable, full-time residents are valuable, newcomers and old-timers alike are valuable. What I’m asking is for us to consider all of these things. A community without the sugar borrowing, without kids on bikes and families barbequing, without waves to your neighbors and helping each other is not a community I want to be a part of. I’m not sure it’s a community any of us want to be a part of…If STRs continue to grow unchecked in Mt. CB then we may end up with one of those alternatives and for me and for most of us that is not why we’re here. It’s not why we move here, it’s not why we bought property here, it’s not why we visit here…we need a balance of these sectors in our community and we need time to plan proactively so all sectors can thrive. If we hit pause we can take a deep breath, talk to our neighbors and friends and plan for a community that, as best as possible, serves everyone.”

Korrie Armstrong told the council, “It has turned into a business, something they’re making a profit off of… It would take me 90 [STR] days to cover my mortgage. To say you need it year-round is a lie…I have to lock my doors every night because I don’t know who my neighbors are. I would like our community to be a community, not a bunch of hotels.”

Shaun Matusewicz agreed. “They’re operating as a business, they need to be paying the same operating fees and taxes that hotels do.”
“Changing the taxing on STRs from residential to business has to be done at the state assembly level,” Farmer explained later on. “We don’t have control over that. That’s not going to happen any time soon.”

“We need to protect people’s first investment before their second, third or fourth investment,” said Jennifer Kennedy, who noted the difficulty of living here paycheck to paycheck in the education field. “We chose to move here. I didn’t choose to go somewhere else and make a lot of money and then move to my dream community.”

Cass Rea asked the council to find a balance. “Consider what it means to live in a resort town with a plastic population. Currently it’s the Wild West and we have no cap and ability to deal with this stuff.”

“At the end of the day it’s very plain and apparent that all our businesses are struggling from lack of housing,” said Eliot Tilton, who shared his decision to halt Airbnbing his place to house a local long-term. “This is something very easy I can do, change my lifestyle a little bit, be more frugal with my money and help someone who needs a spot…Remember that just because you have one bad experience with a renter doesn’t mean that everybody is…There are a lot of people here in this community that have multiple Airbnbs, multiple short-term rental properties. Do you really need all of them?”

Amber van Strien explained how she continues to witness her neighbors and friends become displaced from her building, Chateaux, where seven bedrooms have been converted to STRs just this past year. “Owners are literally splitting up their condos to maximize the number of individual units they can list for maximum profit…Random strangers are opening the door to our home because they are looking for their hotel room.”

Brandon Johanns said the house he rents just sold and that he and his four roommates have yet to find a new place to live. We all work in town…We’re all at this time of year pretty stressed out…On top of that we’re pretty stressed out that we won’t have a place to live. I think we need to be protecting the mental health of our valley and the mental health of our community… If we do value the mental health of our community, that’s something we need to consider…I think we need to value the mental health of our community over investment of visitors.”

Lindsey Freeburn reminded the council that a moratorium would not impact current STR owners, it would just pause the issuance of any new licenses. “The entire country is watching us right now. You have this opportunity to make some really important decisions to protect the people who live here. You can get creative with this moratorium.”

Dan Denbow, president of the San Moritz HOA, said he was somewhat disturbed that STRs have become such a divisive issue. “I think we bring a critical aspect to the economy so I don’t know why we’re under attack for this…We’re able to employ six full-time people and another three or four part-time persons on the housekeeping staff. If we were to only do long-term rental we would lose that benefit.”
“I’m angry,” said Karen Redden, who currently lives in the Emmons building because of the pandemic. “It’s not designed for long-term renting…it’s our long-term renters that are the problem in the community, not the short-term. Because of different lifestyles,” she said. There’s a core area here in Mt. Crested Butte that was never designed for long-term housing. We’ve created the problem by mixing the two. Look at zoning. There are areas that should not have a moratorium and some that should.”

Ted Gundrum explained that he long-term rented his unit at the Timberline Condos for four years. “I have to kind of painfully say that was probably the worst four years of damage done to our unit. It wasn’t that people were intentionally damaging our unit, it was just that they didn’t take care of it. There were a lot of repairs that we had to do that we wouldn’t have had to do if we had short-term rented it…now we’re to the point where I don’t think we’re going to rent it…I don’t want our investment to be damaged and have our renovation destroyed.”

Todd Barnes expressed his opposition to the moratorium. “I think you guys can do better than that. You have land and you have a revenue stream…A moratorium doesn’t magically solve the problem of long-term rentals nor does it create a conscience for the owner of the property, new or old, to put long-term rentals in there. You have revenue, I don’t think you’ve even scratched the surface, and you have land – put the two together and put in the horizontal infrastructure.”

Adam Moore reached out to the council by email prior to the meeting. “My family is 18-24 months out from being able to complete construction on a home, but we have to make commitments now to move forward. It is impossible to do that when we don’t know if we’ll be able to get an STR license a year or two from now.”

In another email, Ben Smith said, “We use our home periodically during the year and often come up on a whim (or sometimes last minute) or when our schedules allow us to plan and do so… we are not about to lock our home up in a long-term type rental that would preclude our flexibility or ability to use our home…our #1 priority is not to make it an income producing property (nor is it now). Our home alone contributes (an extra) $15,000+ plus per (non-covid) year to the local economy by way of the STRs…I fully understand that there is a local housing crisis… but it is NOT going to be solved by looking at or limiting private property second homeowners that did not purchase their property with the mindset of becoming long-term landlords…”

Kelli Jennings wrote, “Full-time residents who use their homes as occasional STRs do not impact the issue of dark homes in the community or the housing crisis since their homes would not be available for long-term rental anyway. Since this was a financial consideration for some of us who’ve made Mt. CB our home, I believe the primary residences should be considered separately from second homes.”

Council discussion
Council members each took turns voicing their thoughts, focusing on two main discussion topics: how to better regulate and enforce STRs in general (enacting a license fee increase to cover administrative costs and issuing a new penalty/fine structure) and whether or not to place a moratorium on granting new STR licenses.

“To me the town needs to probably create its own department, expand with one full-time or part-time individual who would oversee the licensing process,” said Steve Morris. “I’d like to see town have enforcement that actually goes out. A system where there’s some transparency for the community to act on the complaints and concerns they have. It’s a huge component to the quality of life conversation.”

Michael Bacani agreed. “The quickest and probably the most effective thing we could do is update the ordinance for fines, penalties and possible revocation of that STR license.”

Roman Kolodziej also agreed that the town needs to help affected neighbors better: providing addresses of STRs adjacent to their property, contact info, the parking plan, etc. “There should be a stronger penalty fee schedule and better tools for neighbors to advocate for themselves.”

Dwayne Lehnertz advocated for the town composing a standardized letter or form of communication to anybody who is renting a short-term rental. “Let them know there are certain courteous ways to behave in our community. If you’re expecting to come and party like it’s 1999 and if you’re in a condo unit that shares a wall with someone, well that’s not very courteous. Encourage people to embrace a Leave No Trace mentality.”

Farmer also wanted to prioritize regulatory issues, like increasing fees in order to hire someone to deal with STRs, parking enforcement and issuing a town noise ordinance.

Regarding the potential moratorium, Morris was open to a moratorium in a limited capacity that would have some leniency toward full-time locals. “I don’t think those types of people should be chastised or limited in their ability to do that.”

Bacani suggested looking at a moratorium from a zoning point of view, possibly outside of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

“I’m for a moratorium,” said Kolodziej. “I like the idea of outside the DDA. It needs to be made clear it’s not eliminating someone’s right to rent. It’s a pause. It won’t change the rules but what it would do would maybe hit the pause button.” He noted there should be exceptions, such as homebuyers who have already entered into a contract, and property owners or new construction projects that have submitted a complete application that has yet to be processed. “It’s not fair to basically pull the rug out from under somebody because they entered into a contract with a certain understanding of what they could do.”

“I don’t see the benefit that would be derived from a moratorium, maybe I’m missing something,” said Lehnertz.

Lauren Koelliker voiced her favor of a moratorium. “A moratorium does not mean no more short-term rentals and so I think there are a lot of details to work out here. I do support not issuing additional STRs for a limited amount of time. We need to be reasonable about who that applies to.” She agreed that looking outside of the DDA makes sense. “I’m not proposing we ban all short-term rentals but I’m not proposing that we should allow as many short-term rentals as people want.”

Nicholas Kempin wondered whether a moratorium on STRs would really help, as homes may just sit empty rather than be rented out long-term. “Their wealth is such that they don’t need STRs. They don’t need the STR income to make it pencil out.” Regarding people in the middle, “Some people use STRs to pay taxes or mortgage, for some it’s a retirement plan, for some people it’s a backup plan.”
“One of the problems to do a moratorium right now, we don’t have the staff in place to enforce a moratorium,” said Farmer. “Putting in a moratorium right now to me doesn’t make any sense because we can’t enforce it.” She noted she would consider it in certain areas or neighborhoods.

What about CBMR?
Johanns asked the council how CBMR was playing a role into all of this, explaining how shocked he was when he first moved here and got a job as a lift operator only to find CBMR doesn’t have any employee housing. “I was curious if there’s any sort of responsibility that CBMR has to find housing for their employees like the rest of Vail’s resorts in Summit County. I’ve always been so shocked that they don’t have that up here.”

“I promise you that all of us are very aware,” said Farmer. “They have made it clear they are not going to take part in that responsibility.”

Kolodziej explained that the council’s understanding is that CBMR would sign a master lease but they won’t build.

Regarding “CBMR’s complete absenteeism on all things community related,” Morris encouraged everyone to reach out to the new general manager Tara Schoedinger, who has voiced the importance of community and partner collaboration. “Send emails, call Tara, show up at her office…Get super, super loud with CBMR right now. Equally with the North Village. This is the biggest opportunity we’re going to get to get a huge lump of deed-restricted houses in the inventory.”

The council encouraged the public to come to the Mt. CB Town Picnic this Friday and the next council meeting on August 3, in which they plan to discuss the STR and housing topics further.

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