Commissioner is divided on short-term rental policies in the county

After more hours of debate and public comment on Wednesday, Pitkin County commissioners could not find common ground on passing a short-term rental ordinance.

The five-member council remained divided on the major question of who should be allowed to obtain a short-term rental license in the unincorporated county of Pitkin – primary residents and longtime owners or anyone who want one.

“I cannot support the short-term rental ordinance as it currently stands,” Commissioner Francie Jacober said, reading a prepared statement near the end of Wednesday’s lengthy meeting. “I will not vote for an ordinance that discriminates against those who cannot or do not live in the county.”

Jacober took issue with a compromise first suggested last month by board chair Patti Clapper that instead of being primary residents, those who want a short-term rental license could prove 30 years ownership of the house they wish to rent or 10 years of short-term rental history. Jacober said she wouldn’t favor “old Aspen families” over those who aren’t “megarich” but still own Pitkin County property and enjoy spending time here.

The forceful denunciation drew an equally strong reaction from Clapper.

“I made no attempt to discriminate against anyone in any way,” Clapper said. “And I’m offended that you say that.”

Jacober countered that Clapper may not have been trying to discriminate, but that’s actually what she was doing.

Commissioner Steve Child sided with Jacober, saying he preferred to limit the number of days a property was allowed to be on the short-term rental market. The child suggested a 90 day limit.

Jacober and Child balked for months at supporting the portion of the proposed ordinance limiting rentals to primary residents or those with a significant property history in the county.

Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury, who was previously frustrated with fellow board members for trying to upend months of work on the proposed order, said Wednesday she appreciated Child’s suggestion of a limit of 90 days. However, she said she was unsure if this really solved the main issues at stake and that the board would inevitably hear from people who needed 200 days to make such an arrangement workable.

“I’m afraid what you’re raising is an audition nightmare,” McNicholas Kury said, where people who abuse the limit could easily escape punishment. “I still think we’re on the right track.”

Commissioner Greg Poschman said his heart was weary of recent short-term rental property investors in Redstone – many of whom spoke at Wednesday’s meeting – although he questioned whether new residents of Redstone were really determined to be part of the community.

“How many times have we heard developers say something like that?” He asked.

Ahead of the commissioner’s debate, Pitkin County Attorney John Ely went over the fine points of the order as it currently reads. Key highlights include:

• Exclusion of all backcountry refuges, including those in the Braun and 10th Mountain systems.

• Not allowing tenants of properties to obtain short-term rental licenses, only landlords are entitled to this right.

• Anyone renting a property for less than 30 days must have a county-issued license.

• All owners of adjacent properties must be notified 15 days before the application for a short-term rental permit for a property will be considered.

• The number of tenants cannot exceed two per room.

• An applicant must specify how long they intend to spend at their property.

• The applicant must be the principal resident of the property.

• The principal residence requirement could be waived if the applicant could prove 10 years of ownership by the same family or could show that the property was used as a short-term rental for at least five years (Clapper’s original proposal of 30 years of ownership or 10 years of rental history has been reviewed).

• Properties in rural and remote zoning districts are generally excluded, although the ordinance includes a mechanism for such owners to apply, with final decisions to be made by the Board of Commissioners.

• No more than one short term rental would be permitted for a single property or plot.

• Licensees must keep detailed short-term rental records.

• The ordinance would become law 90 days after it is passed by council.

• Licenses would be valid for one year.

Council members voted on Wednesday to forward all those provisions to a third reading of the ordinance, which was scheduled for May 11. The fact that all five commissioners voted to pass the order as it currently reads, however, does not mean that all of the above will be included in the final version.

Minor changes to the above provisions could be passed through an order in May, although major changes like adding a limit on short-term rental days or eliminating primary residence requirements would cause further delays in passing the ordinance, Ely said.

Pitkin County’s proposed ordinance would only apply to unincorporated areas of the county. Properties in the short-term rental market in the City of Aspen, Snowmass Village or the City of Basalt would be governed by ordinances enacted by those municipalities.

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