Clear Creek County officials are searching for a way to address short-term rentals, and ultimately find a balance between protecting the local housing stock and helping locals who rely on tourism revenue.
With employees struggling to find housing, officials were concerned that short-term rentals were a way for investors to take a property off the market for buyers or long-term tenants.
However, St. Mary's residents argue that their short-term rentals are a much-needed boon in an area that doesn't have another industry.
Last month, the Clear Creek Board of County Commissioners continued a hearing on proposed regulations that would put a cap on the total number of rentals in the county, among other changes. The hearing will resume Dec. 7.
On Nov. 2, the board's agenda included a possible moratorium on new STR permits, but the commissioners decided not to act on it.
Commissioner Sean Wood wondered why the moratorium was even on the Nov. 2 agenda, saying he felt it was a very drastic step. He wanted to the county to have time to gather data before the Dec. 7 meeting, which staff anticipated will likely only be the first of several on this topic.
“I believe one of the government's roles is to provide an environment of legislative stability,” Wood continued. “We need to be very careful in how we make any decisions.”
More than a dozen St. Mary's STR operators and neighbors voiced their opposition to such a moratorium and any regulation changes that would impact the neighborhood.
Jenna and John Kelly, who are about to close on an Elk Road home, said they were planning to operate a short-term rental to supplement the mortgage.
“After a long and exhausting home search, being outbid multiple times, we were so excited to get this home in St. Mary's,” Jenna said. “ … We're very scared, because our livelihoods depend on this.”
Others argued that, because of the weather, most St. Mary's property owners don't live there year-round anyway. Thus, their STR properties aren't likely to be housing options for employees, as it's difficult to commute to work physically and/or electronically from the area.
St. Mary's residents who build or caretake STR properties also emphasized that this was the one industry in the area, and changes could destroy the sole source of revenue for the area's infrastructure repairs and expansions.
The commissioners said they will discuss the topic again at the Dec. 7 continued public hearing.
Commissioner George Marlin, who previously owned and operated a short-term rental in Idaho Springs, recused himself from the Nov. 2 discussion.
During the Oct. 19 public hearing, Marlin failed to disclose that he held an STR permit with the city of Idaho Springs, although he has not operated during the pandemic. He stated via social media on Oct. 27 that he gave up the license to avoid any conflicts and requested a review by the state's Independent Ethics Commission.
He said its decision is expected Nov. 16.
“I believe Commissioner Marlin has addressed the potential conflict of interest by not operating during the pandemic,” Commissioner Randy Wheelock said. “ … This is not an investigation into George Marlin. He instigated the ethics review … (and) he has to let that run its course.”
Wood said that he didn't realize how different St. Mary's is from the rest of the county in terms of short-term rentals, and wondered if there was a way to tailor STR regulation changes to various neighborhoods.
County Attorney Peter Lichtman said staff will present a variety of options to the board on Dec. 7, and anticipated that the board won't approve anything at that meeting.
Instead, he estimated staff and the board will keep reviewing and revising the proposed STR regulation changes until mid-February or early March, and Lichtman expected to receive more public input before then.