After months of contentious discussions with Colorado Springs property owners, City Council has finally created new regulations to govern the operation of short-term rental properties, commonly offered through online booking platforms like VRBO and Airbnb.
A divided Council voted 5-4 on Dec. 5 to approve new provisions as recommended by the City Planning Commission, which defines an “owner-occupied” STR as any rental whose owner inhabits the property for at least 185 days of the year.
The commission specified a 500-foot separation buffer between any new permitted STRs, and banned non-owner-occupied STRs in all single-family zoning districts.
The ordinance amendment stipulates that the 500-foot separation will be measured “in a straight line without regard to intervening structures,” so any new STR will need to be at least 500 feet — in every direction — away from the property line of the nearest short-term rental unit.
Until this decision, there were no regulations in city code stipulating density caps on STR permits, and permits were not barred in single-family zoning districts.
Since Council began considering STR regulations, neighborhood residents and advocacy groups have argued that STRs — particularly non-owner-occupied units — are a detriment to their communities.
Mike Applegate, founder of the Neighborhood Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs, believes Council made the right decision.
“We’ve been advocating for something similar to this since it hit the planning commission in August 2018,” Applegate said. “So as an overall, wise, reasonable compromise I think it makes a lot of sense from our perspective.
“I can tell you from personal experience, even if the [STR] guests are nice people and don’t cause any issues, it’s still a revolving door of uncertainty. So the more of those there are, the more that one by one, the fabric of our community starts to unravel.”
On the other side of the debate are STR owners who argue further property use restrictions will hurt their ability to profit from their rentals. Restrictions, some said, should therefore be implemented only when based on supporting data.
Property owners with active STR permits will be grandfathered in under the ordinance amendment, meaning the new regulations will not impact the city’s current 1,381 permitted STRs, 477 of which are located in now-off-limits, single-family zoning districts.
The amendment’s supporters (councilors Don Knight, David Geislinger, Yolanda Avila, Tom Strand and Bill Murray) said their primary reasons for supporting the regulations included the detriments STRs pose to neighborhoods — as reported by other communities and anecdotally described to Council during a town hall and public comment periods at multiple Council meetings — as well as STRs reducing affordable housing stock in Colorado Springs.
“These are commercial enterprises — and commercial enterprises, historically, have been restricted,” Murray said.
“We’re not denying entrance of the STR market into the city. There are plenty of areas where they can co-locate. What we’re saying very specifically is: Don’t do it in [single-family zoning districts] because they have not demonstrated a value added to the communities that we are trying to support and enhance.”
Whether STRs represent commercial properties and should be treated as such has been a sticking point for council members throughout their consideration of further regulations.
“Our planning department referred to this kind of housing as a hybrid,” Councilor Jill Gaebler said.
“I really like that. It is not commercial. It might not be residential, but it is a hybrid and it does belong in our neighborhoods.”
Although existing STR owners will be largely unaffected by the new regulations because of grandfathering, many owners, including members of the Colorado Springs Short-Term Rental Alliance, voiced opposition to Council making its decision without data to support the notion that further regulations are needed.
“For most STR owners that are part of our group, this decision doesn’t affect us at all,” said Ryan Spradlin, founder of COSSTRA. “We’re going to be grandfathered, our permits are going to be existing, so nothing about this is going to change or minimize what we already have. My big hangup with it was that … there was no data to support these changes at all.
“We were there primarily to voice our dissent against the idea that regulations and restrictions should be applied where a problem hasn’t been proven to exist. And there isn’t data to suggest that any of those measures were necessary.”
Council President Richard Skorman and councilors Gaebler and Andy Pico, who voted against the measure along with Councilor Wayne Williams (Williams tended to support the regulations but voted against the amendment because it does not allow for a public hearing request), echoed concerns about passing the amendment without supporting data.
One piece of data that was made available to Council prior to the vote was a document showing the number of STR complaints made to Colorado Springs Neighborhood Services.
It showed the city has received 100 allegations and confirmed 75 STR complaints, 56 of which dealt with STRs operating without a permit.