A house on Bear Mountain in Evergreen is the first in unincorporated Jefferson County to be approved for use as a legal short-term vacation rental. The unit is expected to open for vacationers in June, now that the popular grassroots practice has been deemed legal with certain restrictions — namely, eligible houses must be on a minimum 1-acre lot.
The owners, Sandi Titus and Jack O'Leary, both of Texas, received permission in a 5-0 vote from the Jeffco Board of Adjustment on March 7 to offer the first legal short-term vacation rental in unincorporated Jefferson County.
The next step is to apply for a permit, which is good for six months and is to be renewed annually.
After years of controversy, the county commissioners voted 2-1 in favor of allowing short-term vacation rentals on Nov. 8, 2011 — subject to a public hearing and permitting process, and largely under the domain of the Board of Adjustment.
Two years earlier the commissioners rejected a similar but less restrictive proposal after neighbors strenuously objected on grounds that rentals are lodging businesses and don't belong in tight-knit, established communities.
So far the newly permissive attitude has failed to produce the expected wave of applications for permits, although dozens of houses in the Evergreen and Conifer areas have been posted on various websites for years.
Titus and O'Leary, owners of the house on Edelweiss Circle, are so far the only people to take the first step toward legalization, said Mike Chadwick, Jefferson County zoning administrator.
Officially, they received a "special exception" from the zoning regulations, not a re\zoning, as was previously contemplated. The special exception gives the county the power to withdraw a rental permit if necessary.
Titus and O'Leary declined to comment on the approval, which they have been seeking since 2009.
Martha Weeks Green, a prospective rental proprietor, said she hadn't applied yet because she already had a long-term renter whose lease doesn't expire until summer, and she needs more time to pull together the materials for her application. She speculated that other homeowners are in similar situations.
The county planning and zoning department continues to pursue owners reported to be operating short-term rentals without a permit, and some individuals are being cited with zoning violations, Chadwick said.
The Internet has made it increasingly popular for people to become grassroots innkeepers by posting their homes for rent on sites such as VRBO.com, Homeaway.com and vacationrentals.com.
Under the new regulations, people wishing to rent their homes on a temporary basis must apply for a permit, appear at a public hearing, and supply an off-street parking space for each bedroom, plus one more. Outdoor wood fires are not permitted on the premises. Properties must be on at least 1 acre.
There is a fee of $400 to apply for BOA review and $750 for the permit.
Titus and O'Leary won a rezoning request in 2010 for a planned development to allow a detached guest house with no stove on their property near Stanley Park Drive.
The house sits on 4 acres adjacent to a Denver Mountain Park and offers panoramic views of sky and foothills. The main house has three bedrooms and 2,200 square feet, and the guest house is 1,400 square feet.
The couple submitted letters from two of their neighbors saying they had no problems with the couple's plans to rent the unit for a vacation rental.
Case manager Lily Griego said the couple had met all the required steps for a permit and had installed a new tank and septic system. In 2008 the couple received a zoning violation for operating a short-term rental. A request for rezoning was denied in 2009 and approved in 2010 to allow the detached structure, which can't be used as a second dwelling unit.
Griego showed pictures of the home and the guest house, and said there is the required amount of off-street parking.
Board of Adjustment member Ed Ford said he inspected the property and noted the deck railings do not meet current code and advised the couple to get it fixed, although Griego said the zoning department typically doesn't require code compliance.
"If we can't enforce it, I think it's something you would want to consider. It could leave you pretty exposed," Ford said.
Ford also observed that the private road in his opinion did not meet the requirement for an all-weather surface. O'Leary promised the road would be re-surfaced at least once a year in June and the board consensus was that would meet the county's requirements.
One board member asked how Titus would deliver the house keys, given that she lived in Texas. "We have a person who shows up with the keys. We have made some good friends, and they look after the house for us," Titus said.
"We started this on a whim," Titus told the Board of Adjustment. "We had no prior dealings with short-term rentals, but we found people really loved Evergreen and they wanted to come back. They didn't want to stay in a hotel and said if they couldn't stay in the house, they would stay elsewhere."
"We thought we were doing it right," Titus said, before she found out the county wasn't allowing short-term rentals at the time. "People came back over and over."
People who stay in the house typically support local businesses, as do the owners, who use local vendors for various services, O'Leary said.
Contact Vicky Gits at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-350-1042
Requirements to apply for permit for short-term rental and restrictions
(Jefferson County Zoning Resolution, Section 4, page 6)
Smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and carbon-monoxide detectors as required by county zoning resolution.
All parking must be contained on site and not on adjacent roads or properties.
Posting of the "Being a Good Neighbor" guide (available on website) in a prominent location.
The lot size must be a minimum of 1 acre.
Building must meet standards of underlying zone district.
Property owner must comply with defensible-space requirements.
Valid water and sanitation must be provided.
Access must be from county-maintained right of way or private road that meets minimum standards for private roads and driveways.
Overnight accommodations may be offered only in the primary single-family dwelling, not in an accessory dwelling unit.
The property may not be the subject of an ongoing zoning violation, other than the short-term rental of a single-family dwelling.
A special exception will be valid for six months and may be renewed annually after a complete rehearing by the BOA to determine if use is in compliance.