Residents spoke for several hours for and against proposed changes to the county’s short-term and vacation rental rules at a Boulder County commissioner meeting on Tuesday.
Proposed changes would impact the county’s Land Use Code as well as the licensing ordinance for short-term and vacation rentals. County staffers have said previously that the changes are meant to clarify and simplify the application and review processes for short-term and vacation rentals. Staffers said they have attempted to balance property owners’ desires to own short-term rentals with the impacts rentals can have on other community members.
No decisions had been voted on by press time. The list of proposed changes is lengthy and includes changes to the definitions of what short-term and vacation rentals are, where each type of property is allowed and how many parking spaces are required at rental sites. For example, proposed changes call for short-term rentals to be allowed in all districts and in subdivisions, while vacation rentals would be allowed in certain zones but be prohibited in subdivisions.
County staffers have suggested imposing a 3.5% cap on the number of vacation rentals allowed in the mountain areas of Boulder County. Ethan Abner, a long-range planner with Boulder County Community Planning and Permitting, explained during a presentation Tuesday that capping vacation rentals aligns with the county’s goal of preserving housing stock.
A memo for Tuesday’s meeting cited research showing that short-term and vacation rentals, including Airbnb rentals, can affect housing stock and make homes less affordable. Multiple studies have documented that home-sharing has driven up rental rates and house prices and reallocated some long-term rental stock to the short-term rental market.
Other studies have concluded that short-term rentals have “positive economic effects.” One study found that short-term rentals are not significant contributors to housing shortages and affordability, but that over-regulating such rentals can affect local tourism.
Still, mitigating the potential negative impacts of short-term and vacation rentals is part of the county’s rationale for some of these proposed changes, particularly the vacation rental licensing caps.
The Boulder County Planning Commission held public hearings on these changes on Sept. 20 and Oct. 18. After the October public hearing, the planning commissioners recommended approval of the changes, but with a number of modifications. For example, the commissioners suggested that adjacent property owners should be notified when a license application is submitted (staff had suggested that neighboring property owners should only be notified after a license is issued).
Numerous speakers Tuesday praised the changes that streamline the application process for short-term and vacation rentals but vehemently opposed the proposed cap on vacation rentals.
Nathaniel Farber said he relies on income from his rental property to feed his family. He said he has been going through the review process for a vacation rental license since April 2021.
“I’m happy to hear that the special use review process is being eliminated and there’ll be some streamlining the process. However, the caps, I think, are a big problem,” Farber said.
Other property owners blasted the county for proposing additional regulations they see as infringing on their property rights and financial interests. Several said they’re skeptical that the research and data county staff have cited showing the potential harms of short-term rentals apply locally since the research wasn’t done here.
Still other speakers supported changing existing regulations, saying they’ve been negatively impacted by short-term and vacation rentals in their neighborhoods. Many said they’re frustrated with the lack of enforcement.
Deborah Rideout said a speculator bought the property next door to her for more than it was worth, lied about living there and turned it into a full-time rental, which she said has caused safety issues, trespassing, privacy issues and other problems.
“This has compromised my welfare and my physical and mental health,” Rideout said. “(It) has destroyed my quiet enjoyment of my home for years and the residential character of the area.”
Another speaker, Garrett Rue, took property owners to task, saying they were focusing on their individual property rights at the expense of the rights of others.
“You know, if we all look at this as, ‘I can do whatever I want,’ then there’s really no reason to have any rules,” Rue said. “It is a luxury to own multiple homes, and there are people who aren’t able to testify at this meeting, people who are maybe trying to buy homes … they can’t speak to this. They don’t get to have a say here.”