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County commissioners reject vacation-rental plea

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Owner sought permission to rent two houses near Stanley Park Drive on short-term basis

By Vicky Gits

At the Sept. 29 commissioners’ meeting, Kathy Hartman, Faye Griffin and Kevin McCasky voted against the rezoning, which had been in the works for about a year.

“The Planning and Zoning Department is looking at alternative methods of legalizing short-term rentals,” Hartman said. “A rezoning action allows short-term rental in perpetuity, even if the land is sold. We would have no ability to regulate the quality of operator.”

Griffin said she realized the importance of balancing earning a livelihood against the rights of the neighborhood.

“This is not a reflection of your integrity as a citizen. It is a technicality we are trying to address,” McCasky said. “We recognize there are property rights. This is a delicate balance. The goal is to find new rules that respect the neighborhood. This request is denied, but new regulations will be before us in short order.”

McCasky was referring to the new short-term rental regulations being developed by the Planning and Zoning Department. The regulations were unveiled last month on the department website.

The first discussion and vote on the rules came at the Jeffco Planning Commission meeting on Sept. 23. At the September meeting, the planning commission voted to postpone a decision on the subject.

Instead, the commission will consider new regulations to govern the operation of private homes as short-term rental vacation units in another meeting Oct. 14 (check agenda on Jeffco website).

Enabled by websites such as Vacation Rental By Owner or vrbo.com, findrentals.com, homeaway.com and vacationrentals411.com, homeowners have an easy way of connecting with potential visitors.

At least 30 such properties are on the market in Evergreen and Conifer, based on shopping the various websites. Other cities, such as Santa Fe and Boulder have already drawn up rules to cover short-term rental units.

In unincorporated Jefferson County, renting out homes for less than a month is illegal. Some homes have attracted complaints from neighbors and anonymous sources, which has led to authorities issuing zoning violations. Some but not all owners have been told to cease operations while the county rewrites the rules.

The owner of the house on Edelweiss Circle, Sandi Titus, said someone at the planning department told her over the phone that it was legal to rent houses on a short-term basis, but she admitted she didn’t have anything in writing.

When Titus bought the property in 1998, it had two structures on it. There was a 1,700-square-foot mountain contemporary on two stories and a 700-square-foot cabin.

“We were told there was no restriction,” Titus said. “We spent thousands of dollars to make the house ready for short-term rental. … We were the third advertisers on VRBO in 2006. We advertised in the Evergreen Magazine. Why would we risk the (negative) publicity by doing the wrong thing?”

Titus says rental units bring vacationers, who spend money and provide jobs and a market for services. “This is a growing trend. Our plan was to operate as a short-term rental and eventual use this as our retirement home,” she said.

The home is on land zoned SR-5 for residential. Titus was advised to request the land be rezoned PD, or planned development, which would allow short-term rental uses.

The planning commission approved the request in a nearly unanimous vote on Sept. 9, with conditions, but the deal proved a tougher sell for the county commissioners.

The owner received a zoning violation on July 17, 2008, for renting out the single-family home and the cabin, but was later allowed to go ahead while they pursued the rezoning.

Lorin Teeters of Evergreen, who lives next door to the private home/rental unit, said Titus was a responsible landlord, and she had no problem with her proposal to rent both the main house and the cabin.

But Cleo Boyd of Blue Spruce Road near Evergreen Lake told commissioners a local short-term rental unit was bringing a stream of visitors to the neighborhood every few days. “They are an invasion of privacy, a threat to safety and the integrity of our neighborhood,” she said.

The planning staff in its analysis urged the county commissioners to deny the Edelweiss Circle rezoning on grounds that using the cabin as a rental would turn the property into a “use that was more commercial in nature and would increase the residential density as well as impacts to surrounding properties.”

Staff warned that using the cabin as a rental would set a precedent and encourage other properties to apply for short-term rental status of accessory dwelling units.

Contact Vicky Gits at vicky@evergreenco.com or 303-250-1042.