At the Colorado Springs City Council session on Oct. 22, councilors were scheduled to vote on a trio of measures that will determine how short-term rental properties, commonly booked through websites like Airbnb, are regulated throughout the city in the years to come.
On the agenda were proposed ordinance amendments setting caps on occupancy and permit density, as well as one setting a definition of what constitutes an “owner occupied” STR.
But with Councilor Wayne Williams (who was, according to Councilor Tom Strand, dealing with a health issue) absent from the meeting, Council moved to bifurcate those measures, delaying discussion and decision on proposed amendments addressing permit density and the definition of “owner occupied” STRs, and voting solely on an amendment that sets new limits on how many short-term renters can occupy an STR at any given time.
The proposed ordinance amendment sets a limit of two occupants per bedroom, plus an additional two occupants per dwelling unit, up to a maximum overnight occupancy of 15.
Despite council having previously heard more than six hours of spirited and oftentimes heated testimony on the subject, the single amendment put before council on Oct. 22 led to over an hour of testimony.
Citizens expressed concerns about the amendment’s impact on residential parking, as well its implications about fire safety.
“Fifteen people in a house is an awful lot, and I would suggest along with that limitation there needs to be something more that the fire chief could address in terms of safety,” one man remarked.
An STR owner, who said she and her husband operate four STRs in the downtown area, argued that occupancy limits on a per-bedroom basis were unfair, and that such limits should consider factors such as bedroom size or square footage.
“I believe in occupancy limits, but in the housing market there are exceptions based on the size of the bedroom, or using square footage as a guideline and not just a hard-and-fast, two people per bedroom [regulation],” the woman argued. “For example in one of the houses that we own we have an upstairs garret-type bedroom that is 15-by-35 [square feet]. It has a closet. It has emergency egress ladders and a bathroom. To say there’s only two people for that, in a two-bedroom house, is unusual.”
Another man posed the question to council: “How are we going to enforce this? Is code [enforcement] going to come count heads?”
Councilor Don Knight responded to that question, confirming that, yes, code enforcement would be tasked with counting heads, but would likely only do so as a result of complaints by neighbors.
“If you’re a good neighbor, code enforcement is not going to come out,” Knight said. “We’re trying to make a positive point that code enforcement is a complaint-driven system.”
After a motion to add the word “overnight” to the second sentence of the amendment to read: “The maximum overnight occupancy per dwelling unit shall be 15 occupants,” the ordinance was unanimously approved, 8-0, with Williams excused.
With the measure addressing total occupancy now formally adopted by Council, what remains to be decided are proposals to define what encompasses an “owner-occupied” residence, and a measure to regulate STR permits, which includes two potential options for implementation.
At the beginning of the work session, Councilor Tom Strand requested to delay decision on the additional amendments surrounding STR regulation, due to Williams’ absence and the vast number of community members with a vested interest in the proposed changes.
“We had over 200 people attend [a council town hall discussing the proposed amendments on Oct. 14] when we were at the [Pikes Peak Regional Building Department] building,” Strand said.
“We have had literally dozens and dozens of emails and texts concerning this subject and since we do not have Mr. Williams here available, I would like to move that we delay discussion on STRs until Nov. 12.”
The topic of STR regulation has sparked fierce debate among STR business owners, homeowner’s associations, neighborhood advocacy groups, and residents.
Business owners feel further regulations on STRs will impact their ability to profit from their businesses, while some community residents assert that STRs in their neighborhoods impact their quality of life and sense of community and safety.
One of the decisions that awaits council at the next session in November is establishing a definition of what encompasses an “owner occupied” STR.
The definition is an important one, as only non-owner occupied STRs are subject to the proposed ordinance amendments capping non-owner STR permits by density.
The measure currently proposed to council establishes that definition as a property that must be occupied by its owner for not less than 180 days out of the calendar year.
But the proposal awaiting council that likely will have the largest impact on STR owners, as well as concerned citizens who view the businesses as detriments to their neighborhoods, is that which will regulate how many non-owner occupied STRs can operate in any given area.
Put before council are two options: one that would limit STR permits by physical distance and another that would set boundaries by land lots.
Option 1 would dictate that no non-owner occupied STR could be located within 500 feet of another non-owner occupied STR. The distance would be measured in a straight line, “without regard to intervening structures or objects from the nearest property line” of the proposed STR, to the nearest property line of the already established STR.
Option 2 would establish similar physical boundaries determined by parcel, rather than measurable distance, establishing that “no non-owner occupied short term rental unit shall be located within five lots of another non-owner occupied short term rental unit.”
The new proposals are only the most recent measures designed to regulate Colorado Springs STRs — a burgeoning business model that, through Airbnb alone, saw 146,800 guests staying in El Paso County Airbnb locations in 2018, representing $17.6 million in host income.
Previous rules put in place to govern the operation of STRs in Colorado Springs include:
• Regulations that stipulate all STR tenants must abide by city housing, noise and public health ordinances.
• Rules dictating parking (private driveways are to be utilized first, with overflow parking on the street where permitted).
• Stipulations regarding the preparation of meals (None shall be prepared or served to the STR tenants by the STR owner or owner’s agents).
• Regulations disallowing the use of an STR for any commercial or large social events or gatherings, such as weddings.
• Policy regarding the display of permit information, dictating the permit with all local contact information and emergency safety information shall be prominently displayed within the STR.
• And a stipulation that, during the term a STR is occupied by a tenant, the owner or local contact designated by the owner to manage the STR must be available 24 hours per day, seven days per week,for the purpose of responding within one hour to complaints regarding the condition or operation of the STR or the conduct of its tenants.
Council is expected to hear additional testimony and vote on the proposed ordinance amendments at the next city council session on Nov. 12.