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Some councilors say more regulations are necessary to prevent renters from throwing large, noisy parties in residential neighborhoods.
Colorado Springs City Councilors recently engaged in yet another spirited debate over short-term rentals (STRs), which are usually booked through sites like Airbnb and VRBO. This one addressed occupancy and density, two issues have been repeatedly brought up by residents who desire more restrictions on the rentals.
There was no consensus among Council at the Aug. 12 work session — other than the decision allow an opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed changes.
The meeting began with Principal Planner Morgan Hester explaining staff's proposal for regulating the number of occupants an STR can have. Under city code, no more than five unrelated people can stay in a single-family residence at any given time. And through a combination of housing and fire codes, code enforcement can say no more than 16 related people can occupy a residence. But in a short-term situation, these regulations become difficult to enforce, Hester said.
So, staff proposed limiting the number of people over the age of 12 who can stay overnight in an STR to two. There would be no limit on younger children.
That proposal got a mixed reception from councilors.
Councilor Don Knight suggested the age should be lowered to 2 years old, the age "when you go from a crib to your own bed," he said.
Councilor Wayne Williams agreed. "Otherwise you wind up that the neighborhood has, in this two-bedroom house, a couple [Boy Scouts of America] Scoutmasters, and 30 11-year-old scouts, which has a significant impact on the neighborhood," he said.
But Councilor Andy Pico said he was "queasy" about adding an occupancy requirement that could be difficult to enforce, and Councilor Jill Gaebler was staunchly opposed.
"I think [the proposed ordinance] is completely complicated and unenforceable," Gaebler said. "...We’re being completely inconsistent across housing types."
"If I have a two-bedroom house and somehow have five, six, seven, eight, nine, kids, should I be able to live in my house? Should I be able to visit a house that has two bedrooms?" she asked.
Councilor Bill Murray suggested instead adopting a regulation like one he said he had experienced while staying in Breckenridge, where any complaint against an STR that led to a call to law enforcement simply incurred a fine. Councilor Yolanda Avila agreed with that suggestion.
Staff's second STR proposal would add density requirements; namely, that only a certain number of STR permits could be issued to homeowners in a particular area.
City staff's recommendation was that "no short term rental unit shall be located within five lots along the same block face of another short term rental unit." But Hester presented Council with two other options.
One would be to issue short-term rental permits only to residences outside a 500-foot buffer surrounding the closest permit holder. Another would be to only issue one permit per block face. (Existing permit holders would be grandfathered in under all three proposed options.)
"This is unwieldy, to say the least," Councilor Murray said of the density proposal. "It picks winners and losers. It really doesn't, I think, resolve the overall problem of concern of misuse of the particular property at the disadvantage of your neighbors."
"I would rather us concern ourselves with performance — are you trashing up your neighborhood? ... Instead of sitting here and saying, 'Well, you can have [a permit], but I'm sorry, you're 500 feet away, you can’t have it,'" he added.
Councilor Tom Strand, who was also skeptical about the proposed occupancy requirement, thought the density restrictions could be problematic.
"I think we have to decide: Is this a problem that is in search of a solution, or the reverse?" he said. "[The density requirement] might work in some neighborhoods where it would allow people to have, you know, a reasonable use of their property, and in other neighborhoods it would be too restrictive."
Councilor David Geislinger seemed open to both the density and occupancy proposals, more aligned with Knight and Williams than the other councilors.
Council President Richard Skorman proposed having a public meeting on the proposed occupancy and density requirements in September, and starting that meeting earlier than normal to accommodate plenty of time for comment.
When City Council last passed an ordinance regulating STRS in September of 2018, City Council Chambers were overflowing with impassioned residents on both sides of the issue.
The ordinance that ultimately passed
(and went into effect Dec. 31) limits the number of STRs per lawful dwelling unit and per property; bans STRs in trailers, tents and other mobile or temporary structures; requires that neighbors be given an emergency contact available 24/7; allows the city to shut down or suspend nuisance rentals; requires an annual $119 permit and the payment of applicable taxes (those who use sites other than Airbnb need a sales tax license); and sets forth a variety of other standards and rules meant to enhance safety and promote neighborhood tranquility.
Opponents, led by the Neighborhood Preservation Alliance, had hoped for changes to the proposed ordinance that would have banned non-owner-occupied STRs and capped the number of STRs in the city.
The Neighborhood Preservation Alliance's leader, Michael Applegate, told the Indy in July
that he was still pushing for those additions, as well as a guest registry (so police can track STR users) and better enforcement of a limit on unrelated people staying in the same home.