Ali O’Neal (right), an organizer with Community First Carbondale, describes her experience as a renter in Carbondale. Photo by Raleigh Burleigh

The prospect of clamping down on short-term rentals drew robust participation at a Carbondale Board of Town Trustees special meeting on Dec. 21. More than 20 people joined the board and staff, online and in-person.

The discussion was framed by the efforts of Community First Carbondale (CFC), a group formed about six months ago to address this very issue — “the nexus of the housing crisis and proliferation of short-term rentals,” as described by Kevin Rayes, who also works as a land-use planner for the city of Aspen.

CFC collected 110 signatures toward a ballot initiative to limit short-term rentals — defined as “a property, dwelling unit or sleeping room rented for a period of 29 consecutive days or less” — to only primary residences in Carbondale, and to leverage an associated 10% tax plus licensing fees toward implementation and enforcement, with any leftover funds allocated to affordable housing.

The group’s proposal also designates that medium-term rentals — between 30 and 90 consecutive days — are allowed with a permit for residences not occupied by a full-time citizen.

Mayor Richardson introduced the topic, saying that Carbondale “looked into the potential of regulating short-term rentals several years ago,” but “couldn’t come to terms with any regulations at the time” beyond requiring that short-term rentals pay a 2% lodging tax.

When the mayor learned about the efforts by CFC, he considered it time for a conversation.

Representing CFC, Rayes, Shirley Powers, Ali O’Neal and Chris Hassig sat across from the trustees. Rayes outlined the negative impacts to neighborhoods when residential houses act as “quasi hotels,” with new tenants every few days.

“I’ve seen firsthand from my job how short-term rentals undermine the zoning process,” said Rayes, describing the efforts that go into formulating a comprehensive plan, with tens of thousands of dollars spent on a consulting firm to conduct public outreach and collect data to determine how a community would like to develop. “New housing stock added should be advantageous to locals, not retroactively turned into short-term rentals,” declared Rayes, “undermining all parts of that process and the purpose of residential zone districts.”

Adding urgency to the topic, the city of Aspen recently implemented a six-month moratorium pausing vacation rental permits. With implications of that action likely to impact Carbondale and other communities, “We have to keep our foot on the gas,” advised Rayes, “and get an ordinance passed as quickly as we can.”

Powers estimated 40 short-term rental units are in operation within town limits, determined by logging into AirBNB and VRBO as a customer. “Every one is a unit that could be a long-term rental for a local,” she emphasized.

“I wholly support everything,” said Trustee Luis Yllanes about the proposal. “It’s well-researched and represented in a way we can really look at. I’m glad you didn’t try for an outright ban, that would have been more difficult to tackle.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, 10 people spoke. Among them, Alyssa Reindel, who founded Ever Green Zero Waste with her husband, described her experience as a renter for over a decade in Carbondale. “It’s been difficult,” she said. “We got in with really good landlords when we got here, they allowed us to start our business because they didn’t raise rent for ten years.”

Reindel and her family have now been told that their current rental is going on the market. She is “in a hussle, getting prequalified,” and despite her businesses’ success, earning the state’s Recycler of the Year award in 2019, they’re struggling to find anything attainable to rent or own.

“We didn’t pay ourselves routinely or enough, but we’ve been working on that for these two years, hoping with the new rental to at least get our kids through high school,” she stated.

Former Town Planner Mark Chain compared the issue to a virus, morphing over the past couple of years and “morphing as we speak.” He emphasized that regional cooperation will be necessary to truly address the issue.

Valley resident Brittany Haley joined by Zoom and spoke on behalf of businesses benefitting from short-term rentals, like the one she operates in the area. She said that 95% of her clients are second home owners and, if not for short-term rentals, the houses would sit empty with a loss in tax revenue for the community. Haley also pointed out that people have made important investments which rely on short-term rentals and said her business pays over 15 people, $40 per hour. She warned that CFC’s proposal would have “extremely damaging results.”

With general agreement among the trustees that something must be done, Mayor Richardson proposed formulating a problem statement and goals with a series of dedicated work sessions.

The discussion will continue at the trustees’ next work session, on Jan. 18, which will also be the first meeting with Lauren Gister, the new town manager. The focus will be on things the board can do without an election, namely permits, caps on licenses, fees and penalties, ideally by March. Later, the possibility of a tax will be explored.

“There’s no moss to be gathered in this,” said trustee Heather Henry.

“Thank you,” responded Powers.

“Thank you. You lit the fire under my butt,” concluded Mayor Richardson.