After several weeks' discussion, the Clear Creek Board of County Commissioners on Dec. 7 unanimously approved new regulations on short-term rentals.
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The county is limiting the number of short-term rental permits to 4.5% of unincorporated Clear Creek's housing stock. Primary-residence rentals are excluded from this cap.
Along with the 4.5% cap, occupancy was limited to two people per bedroom if the residence has an onsite septic system. If the residence is on a sewer system, occupancy is limited to two people per bedroom plus two additional people.
With local employees struggling to find housing, officials have worried that short-term rentals are taking properties off the market for buyers or long-term tenants.
A 4.5% cap would preserve most of the housing stock while still allowing for some growth in the local STR industry, the commissioners noted.
Clear Creek currently has 127 STR permits — about 3.7% of unincorporated residences. Staff estimated this also includes about 10 permits for primary residences.
Under the 4.5% cap, the county could issue up to 154 permits for rentals that aren't primary residences. STR permits are renewed annually.
Commissioner Sean Wood recommended that officials review its 4.5% cap when the county reaches its new 154-permit maximum.
St. Mary's rental owners and operators have been vocal as county officials considered these new regulations. The residents have explained how the high-altitude environment makes it difficult to commute to work physically and electronically, so their STR properties wouldn't make for good year-round housing anyway.
Plus, they said the area doesn't have another industry, and income from rentals will be critical for financing infrastructure repairs.
Fred Rollenhagen, the county's planning director, outlined several regulation possibilities for the commissioners' consideration, such as a 5% cap, having primary-residence rentals only, or creating a “St. Mary's zone” to exclude it from further restriction.
Wood said he favored maintaining the status quo, but his secondary choice would be the Planning Commission's recommendation of a 5% cap.
Under a 5% cap, the county could issue a maximum of 171 STR permits annually.
Commissioner George Marlin described how the county lost several STR operators in 2020 but has since seen new ones take their place in 2021.
“I won't argue that that's a trend that will continue,” Marlin said. “But it is a trend, and it seems more likely to continue than not.”
He also noted how the local housing stock has increased since he graduated from Clear Creek High School in 2004, but school enrollment has dropped significantly. Even marginally, Marlin described, every time a home is converted to a short-term rental, it won't house a Clear Creek student.
Wheelock suggested a 4% cap, excluding primary-residence rentals, but Rollenhagen noted that'd only allow for an additional 10 permits over the county's current 127.
Wood wondered whether picking 4% over 5% might have unintended consequences, such as creating a rush on the final available permits.
The commissioners felt 4.5% would be a fair compromise. The number would accommodate those currently buying residences with intent to short-term rent them and generally allow for some growth in the industry, while still limiting the number of STR permits.
Regarding enforcing the rentals, County Manager Brian Bosshardt and Rollenhagen noted that the county collects about $165,000 in sales tax from local rentals. Bosshardt suggested the county could use those revenues to hire a full-time code enforcement officer.
“That's real money to us,” Bosshardt said. “ … There's some opportunity there.”
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