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Town receives anonymous donation of downtown acreage

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Editor’s note: Alas, as originally published, our calculation of the total acreage donated to the town was off by one (not insignificant) decimal point. The town government has graciously received more than 1.6 acres, but not 16. The Sopris Sun will institute more vigorous math checking to avoid similar blunders in the future.

The Fourth Street Plaza (380 Main Street) and 16 lots surrounding the Thunder River Theatre Company (TRTC) building were quietly donated to the town of Carbondale at the conclusion of 2021. Acceptance of this staggeringly generous donation of over 1.6 acres was tucked into the consent agenda at a virtual trustees meeting, adjourned in under five minutes, on Dec. 28 at 9 a.m. The Sopris Sun sends gratitude to an astute reader for tipping us off.

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The Fourth Street Plaza has long been leased to the town for use as a park and space for events like Cowboy Up, farmers markets and the Mt. Sopris Music Festival. The grantor, wishing to remain anonymous, will retain a private parking easement adjacent to the alley where parking already exists. For the undeveloped parcels surrounding TRTC, private parking for four spots is maintained by the grantor.

Because government properties are tax exempt, this opportunity is nothing less than a “game changer” for a town struggling to provide affordable housing. Carbondale was made responsible for the cost of title insurance policies and customary closing costs, estimated at less than $7,500. The Garfield County Assessor, meanwhile, values these properties combined at close to $2.7 million.

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In other news…

Trustees made further progress toward regulating short-term rentals (STR) at their meeting on Jan. 25. The pro-STR group, Carbondale Forward, was invited back to respond to comments made by Community First Carbondale (CFC) at the conclusion of public comments during last week’s work session.

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“This group does not represent Carbondale and nor does mine,” said Carbondale Forward’s Brittany Hailey about CFC. She accused the pro-regulation group of “overstepping bounds” by proposing policy and “blatantly bullying the board” evidenced by their initial approach “to go straight to the ballot” and continued threat “to place their original proposal on the November ballot.”

The priority for trustees at this meeting, however, was deliberation by the board.

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Planning Director Janet Buck explained the importance of taking a comprehensive approach, emphasizing, “It’s gonna take time” and “there’s more you can put under licensing [and] it’s easier to regulate” compared with determining licenses based on zoning.

Graciously, the Planning Department had already been looking to update its Unified Development Code once the Comprehensive Plan update is completed. Therefore, STR regulations can be rolled into that process.

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“The timing is really good,” observed trustee Heather Henry.

“Some action is warranted, but nobody wants rushed policy,” counseled Town Manager Lauren Gister. “The financial piece and regulatory piece are not necessary to happen at the same time.” Gister also warned that “cause and effect seemed to be stated between STRs and affordable housing,” but “solving one isn’t going to solve the other.”

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Trustees committed to a phased approach, with the first phase designed to capture data and avoid disrupting STR operators who have been paying lodging taxes in good faith. The second phase will hone in on specific limitations.

Town Attorney Mark Hamilton recommended against the outright exclusion of LLCs and advised instead to require that a human being with ownership interest be tied to each license application, similar to what’s done for liquor licensing. Town staff will look at incorporating a tiered structure for licenses based on the number of bedrooms rented and whether the property is owner-occupied or not.

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In the first phase, STR operators will be required to provide documented proof of paying the lodging tax in 2021 to receive a temporary license. A relatively high fine will be established for STRs operating without a license (with the first strike being a warning).

After this intermediary phase, beginning mid-summer, operators will have to come into compliance with more stringent requirements for their license to be renewed. At this point, it’s being discussed to grant licenses to properties with two years or more of ownership in order to limit speculation.

Trustee Ben Bohmfalk suggested that staff’s draft ordinance be presented to the community later in February, along with another opportunity for public comment. “There are probably problems that we haven’t thought about,” he stated.

At the meeting’s conclusion, Henry informed the board that the Valley-wide regional housing coalition is finalizing an agreement between municipalities, calling it “momentum around legitimate affordable housing.”

With that, Mayor Dan Richardson asked that the board discuss how to proceed with “Town Center” — presumably referring to the donated lots surrounding TRTC — at their first regular meeting in February.

Tags: #affordable housing #short-term rentals #Town of Carbondale #trustees
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