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Trustees air out AirBnB, short-term rental concerns

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Staff to make recommendations

By John Colson

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Sopris Sun Staff Writer

The Carbondale Board of Trustees did not quite come up with a final response to the town’s “short-term-rentals” (STRs) problem at Tuesday night’s trustee meeting.

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But they did informally conclude that the official response will be to impose restrictions on “non-owner-occupied” houses that are rented out to vacationers, and avoid placing any such restrictions on “owner-occupied” properties where the owners are renting out rooms to help out with family-related expenses or simply to earn a little income while away on family vacations or other absences.

That, the trustees told planners Janet Buck and John Leybourne, should be the substance of regulations aimed at preventing a loss of locally-oriented and affordable housing in favor of more profitable commerce in the vacation-rental sphere.

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And once a new set of regulations about short-term vacation rentals is in place, suggested Acting Mayor Dan Richardson, it will be up to the town staff and the trustees to watch the matter closely in case Carbondale finds itself subject to a sudden rush of house purchases by speculators hoping to cash in on the short-term-rental market.

Discussion of the matter came on the heels of a similar debate held at a recent planning and zoning commission (P&Z) meeting, during which the P&Z members asked, “what is the problem we’re trying to solve?” according to Planning Director Buck.

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The issues

The issues, acknowledged by the trustees as well as the P&Z, are two-fold — find a way to limit the negative impact of STRs on residential neighborhoods, whether from parking congestion, noise or other disruptive influences; and figure out what the town can do to prevent the loss of affordable rental housing (or even for-purchase homes) to the growing vacation-rental industry.

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“We’re losing community” if the trend is allowed to continue unchecked, declared Trustee Katrina Byars, whose personal life recently has been troubled by the difficulty of finding rental housing in Carbondale.

But there is an inherent difficulty in trying to restrict what homeowners can do with their property, several trustees noted.

Trustee Ben Bohmfalk, for example, suggested that the town’s codes have no provisions with which to do what the BOT wants to do, and that the crafting of such provisions might prove to generate unintended and possibly troublesome consequences.

“There are no tools (for this kind of thing in the town’s code book),” he told his fellow trustees, and suggested the best thing might be to let the market “take care of itself” in terms of the ultimate market for STRs here in Carbondale.

“I think there is a limit to the market for these in town,” Bohmfalk said, “and I think we’re seeing a testing of that limit.”

But Byars noted that the real issue is the loss of affordable-housing stock, and stated, “rental units being converted to AirBnBs is continuing,” adding that she was told of one such conversion only recently.

Buck, noting the P&Z appeared concerned about overreaching the town’s proper role in such matters, added, “I think the P&Z’s thought was, right now, handle this with a light touch.”

A significant portion of the trustees’ discussion centered on the difference between a bed & breakfast, which must go through a somewhat rigorous approval process, and an AirBnB, for which the approval process might involve simply a staff decision about issuance of a conditional use permit, a relatively minor review process.

Bohmfalk suggested the town must be careful to offer “consistency” in its regulations concerning these types of businesses, or risk making it more “onerous” to start up a B&B than it is to create an AirBnB at one’s home.

He asked Town Manager Jay Harrington what it is that makes a property a B&B, rather than an AirBnB, since both commercial activities involve the rental of rooms in a private residential property.

Harrington, somewhat nonplussed by the question, muttered softly, “I didn’t want to touch this one” with a grin, before explaining that the difference between the two types of businesses is murky but that B&Bs are specifically defined in the town’s development review codes while AirBnBs are not.

“The B&B is a defined thing, and this (the proposed new regulation) was trying to backfill” to provide for both kinds of land uses.

(Editor’s note: Airbnb is a privately owned company that operates an online marketplace to list, find and rent vacation housing, according to the company Website).

A B&B requires a Special Use Permit, which involves more expense and complexity than the Conditional Use Permit route being suggested for AirBnBs.

Harrington, who has rental properties in some of the communities he has worked in previously, told the trustees frankly that if he were to buy a property here with an eye toward renting it out, he probably would opt for an AirBnB.

After some discussion, the trustees concluded that one significant difference between B&Bs and AirBnBs is that the former involves renting out rooms to unrelated clients, where the latter often involves renting out an entire building to a single party for days or even weeks.

The trustees also decided they were not interested in creating hassles for homeowners who might want to rent out a room to make a little extra income.

“I think the owner-occupied (business model) is a little bit easier for me to swallow,” said Trustee Marty Silverstein.

Byars suggested imposing a maximum cap on the number of non-owner-occupied STRs in town, an idea that some trustees favored, although it did not make it into the “directions” provided to Buck and Leybourne.

The proposed regulation, which would affect only non-owner-occupied STRs, will go first before the P&Z, then come back to the trustees at a future meeting.

Published in The Sopris Sun on August 11, 2016.

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