Larimer County: Vacation Rental Issue Creating Conflict

Before 2010, vacation homes were allowed in Estes Park as an accessory use while Larimer County prohibited them in the surrounding area. That year the Estes Park Town Board and Larimer County Commissioners voted to allow vacation homes as a principle use throughout the Estes Valley. To do this, regulations in the Estes Park Municipal Code were transferred to the Estes Valley Development Code. This change in use from accessory to principle allowed single-family homes to either be built or converted to serve solely as vacation homes. The vacation homes are regulated through the issuance short-term rental licenses.

The 2010 change led to unanticipated growth in the vacation rental market. The number of licensed vacation homes has increased annually. There were 206 licensed short-term rentals in the area in 2010. By 2016, there were 339 licensed vacation homes – 4.7 percent of all housing units in the Valley — according to the most recent census. As the Town and the County pondered this issue and considered how to regulate it, more homeowners fearful of restrictions applied for short-term rental licenses –- compounding the issue. There have been 90 license applications since January 1.

Last week the Larimer County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve an ordinance proposed by the Town of Estes Park planning staff amending the Estes Valley Development Code (EVDC) and capping the number of vacation rentals in the Estes Park area at 700. However, at the same meeting the Estes Park Board of Trustees approved the ordinance without the cap.

Some residents bemoan the lack of rental housing for locals and say neighborhoods are impacted by the increase of rentals. Others support the economic benefit that derives from the rental market.

The ordinance considered at the joint meeting was an attempt to balance the rights of the vacation home industry and residents’ concerns. Planners said requiring notification and owner contract information would improve communication between the owners of vacation homes and neighbors. It was also intended to improve enforcement of short-term rental licensing.

The Board of Trustees was persuaded by testimony from vacation home supporters to remove the cap. They asked for more time to study the issue. Commissioner Tom Donnelly said the Board of County Commissioners voted in support of the ordinance because it was the result of a public process, was approved by the Estes Planning Commission and had been discussed for months. Donnelly said he felt better enforcement and penalties for vacation homeowners who allowed tenants to become neighborhood nuisances would be the best solution.

Both the Board of Trustees and the County Commissioners must approve amendments to the EVDC for them to become law. Because the ordinances approved by both elected bodies last week were different, the regulation of vacation homes won’t change until a consensus is reached and a uniform ordinance is adopted by both groups.

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