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Short-term rentals run afoul of regulation

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County prompted to rethink the rules

By Vicky Gits

For example, Keith and Rebecca Briggs own five houses in the Evergreen area and rent them short-term to vacationers and wedding guests. The business is labor intensive, not very lucrative and also violates existing zoning regulations in Jefferson County. But they are far from alone.

Like the Briggses, dozens of homeowners from Upper Bear Creek to Conifer are part of a growing underground hospitality industry in which individual owners are renting out their houses on a short-term basis for profit.

So many are in the business that the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Department has proposed revising the zoning regulations to make it legal. The planning commission is set to consider the proposal on Sept. 23, followed by the Board of County Commissioners on Oct. 13.

Online rental services such as Vacation Rental By Owner (www.vrbo.com), www.findrentals.com and www.vacationrentals411.com are making it easier to connect renters with potential visitors.

Many owners are renting their homes because they have to move but can’t sell, said Jeffco planner Mike Chadwick. 

Opportune but illegal

Evergreen has a lot to offer as a vacation destination, but under Jefferson County zoning rules, short-term rental (defined as under 30 days) is not a legal use for residential real estate.

The Briggses and others in the Evergreen area have been cited for violating zoning regulations and are trying to get their properties rezoned for legal short-term rental purposes. Two homes that have been cited for violations are a Briggs house on Independence Trail and another on Edelweiss Circle that belongs to another couple.

Homeowners in both cases have held community meetings to inform neighbors of their intentions. The most recent one on Aug. 31 attracted about 25 people, most of whom were against the idea, said Gail Riley, a homeowner on Independence Trail as well as the owner of Highland Haven Creekside Inn.

Riley said such mom-and-pop operations are cutting into her business unfairly because they are assessed at 8 percent of actual value rather than 29 percent of actual value for commercial property. (She pays $3,000 a month in property tax).

Residents are also worried about of lack of parking on mountain roads, fire danger, traffic, noise and attracting transients and other undesirable characters.

“This is a residential, not a commercial, neighborhood,” said Michael Whitehouse, who lives on Independence Mountain across from one of the rental houses. “I get concerned (that) people come here from another part of the country. But they don’t realize the fire danger. This is a huge issue. … Another issue is parking and getting fire trucks up.

“I’ve seen as many as eight people on the deck across from me,” Whitestone said.

But homeowner/innkeepers like Sandy Titus, for instance, says her business is not only responsible but also provides a needed service. Many guests are family members attending weddings and typically stay about three days.

“Renters watch TV, read and hike around the property and Bell Park. Renters use our home as a base to visit area attractions. … No large groups are permitted to gather; no events are held or permitted,” Titus says in a letter to zoning authorities in August.

Rulings in the pipeline

In the meantime, officials are working on a possible revision to the zoning regulations allowing owners to rent out homes for less than a month without having to go through the lengthy rezoning process.

Kathy Hartman, county commissioner in District 3, which includes the Evergreen/Conifer areas, is taking no position on the matter, saying she wants to wait until the planning commission considers the issue at its upcoming meeting at 1:45 p.m. Sept. 23.

“I want to wait until I see what the planning commission does with it,” Hartman said.

A look at www.vrbo.com alone shows there are 30 houses in Evergreen being offered as vacation rentals, with descriptions such as “View Aspen Color at Our Cozy Mountain Cabin” and “Charming Mountain Cabin on a Beautiful 800-acre Ranch.”

Of the Briggses’ five houses, one is in Clear Creek County, which has no restrictions. Two other rentals are legal. One of the homes is their residence. They are trying to get permission to rezone the fifth property, through the usual channels.

Only breaking even

It’s tough to cover $12,000 a month in mortgages, but the Briggses seem to have accepted the large responsibility with a healthy supply of youthful enthusiasm and energy.

“It’s becoming so complicated. We are only making a little money,” said Rebecca Briggs. “The goal is just to break even and then sell at a profit.”

She said being an innkeeper is demanding work. “People expect perfection,” Briggs said.

Keith Briggs is an actuary who has a daytime job, while Rebecca is a former respiratory therapist who handles the cleaning and housekeeping full-time. Keith covers the bookkeeping and Internet responses.

The Briggses’ signature home (the first one Keith bought) is on the side of a steep incline off Santa Fe Mountain Road; it has views of sky and Front Range, a two-story great room and woodsy surroundings. Accessible from the Floyd Hill exit, the five-bedroom home is close to I-70.

At $170 a night for two people, it’s a sweet, economical deal.

So far, the market is mostly wedding-related. But weddings have a downside. “The thing is, most of them aren’t going to come back again,” Rebecca said. There are also vacationers, funeral attendees and family reunion-ers. Some have come to be close to the Institute for Attachment in Evergreen.”

The Briggses advertise through a listing on www.vrbo.com. The couple currently are trying to get approval from the zoning department for a rental house they own within walking distance of downtown Evergreen. They hosted a community meeting on Aug. 31, the first step in the rezoning process.

Sandi Titus is trying to do the same thing with another house on Edelweiss Circle near Bell Park. Titus could not be reached for comment.

Jim Peterson, a Bear Mountain resident who attended a community meeting on the house near Bell Park, said none of the neighbors seemed to have any objections to the short-term-rental proposal.

At least one neighbor has filed an objection to the Briggses’ application, but Rebecca Briggs believes a short-term rental can be a good thing. Vacation rentals are not about having wild parties and wanton destruction, she said. “We don’t want parties,” she said. “We want a peaceful neighborhood.”

To discourage party animals, they charge a $1,500 deposit to anyone who tries to rent a house for one night only.

“Our places are very well taken care of. We always are doing things to improve the property,” she said.

Planning commission meeting and commissioners meetings

Planning Commission

Considers new proposed regulation on short-term rentals

Wednesday

Sept. 23

1:45 p.m.

Hearing Room 1

Jefferson County Administration Building.

Board of County Commissioners

Tuesday

Sept. 29

Rezoning hearing

26009 Edelweiss Circle

Check website for date and time changes

Highlights of proposed regulation

Amendment to Zoning Resolution Section 4, Board of Adjustment

(Source: Jeffco Planning and Zoning website, Regulation Revision, The Zoning Resolution, Section 4 Board of Adjustment, Update to allow the Board of Adjustment to approve Short Term Vacation Rental proposals)

BOA may permit short-term vacation rental in the following zones as long as the lots are at least 1 acre or more. R-1, RR, MR-1, MR-3, SR-1, SR-2, A-1, A-2 or A-35.

Conditions:

• Overnight accommodations shall be in the primary dwelling not an accessory dwelling unit.

• Meets setback requirements.

• Is not incompatible with existing uses.

• Will provide two off-street parking spaces plus an additional parking space for each room.

• The property owner is not a commercial entity with a primary purpose of engaging in short-term rental of residential properties.

• The property owner is not a bank, credit union or management company.

• The property owner is not engaged in the short-term rental of more than one residential property in Jefferson County.