Boulder Mountain Home Rentals A Thing Of The Past?

In a recent article from the Boulder Daily Camera, Heath Urie writes that an obscure land-use code from 1954 may be used to shut down short term cabin rentals in the Allenspark and Eldora areas.

Urie writes that In a letter sent Sept. 24 to about 1,350 property owners in the two mountain areas, county land-use director Graham Billingsley wrote that anyone renting out cabins or other single-family homes for less than 90 days at a time would have to stop doing so by the beginning of next year.

Here’s the rest of the article following but you can also check out the Boulder County Website for their news release on this issue. Here’s a link to the Boulder County land use article 6.

“Cabins which have been rented and which have been determined to be illegal under the Boulder County land-use code may continue operation until Jan. 1, 2008,” Billingsley wrote. “The current regulations allow rentals, but only if approved through a special use review process, which requires a public hearing before the planning commission and a public hearing, and final decision by the (Board of County Commissioners).”

The decision to shut down the rentals has drawn the ire of many property owners in the area.

“It’ll wipe me out,” said Sandy Nelson, 66, who owns Pine Brook Vacation Rentals, which manages 20 rental cabins in Allenspark.

“This is the only business I have,” she said.

Several cabin owners have hired a lawyer to review the ordinance.

“I’ve looked at the law, and it didn’t appear to me that these uses were illegal,” said Ed Byrne, a Boulder attorney and member of the Camera’s Editorial Advisory Board. “If they are, I’d like to think the statute of limitations is something less than 53 years.”

The Boulder County commissioners in 1954 adopted regulations prohibiting the rental of cabins as lodging, Billingsley said. He said county officials have received “several” complaints from people in Allenspark and Eldora about the number and frequency of cabin rentals, prompting the county to take action on the 53-year-old law.

“We got complaints of people renting out nightly, or every other night,” Billingsley said. “The regulations don’t allow that, unless they go through a special-use process.”

Billingsley said some of the concerns were about the safety of some short-term rental properties.

“It’s a variety of issues,” Billingsley said. “Most (of the rental cabins) are older, so we don’t know about building issues. You have to have exit lighting and those kinds of things.”

Other complaints were about the amount of traffic some properties were generating, Billingsley added: “There’s a whole lot more activity than there used to be, and the community was concerned.”

Billingsley noted that people who can prove their property has been consistently rented out since before the 1954 ordinance would be allowed to continue short-term rentals. Everyone else must wait for a potential revamping of the ordinance, he said, noting that any new regulation would take “significant time to develop and receive good public input prior to being presented.”

Nelson, the Allenspark property manager, said she called county officials when she began her business four years ago in order to check out the local ordinances. No one told her she couldn’t manage a cabin-rental company, she said.

“They sent me a letter saying I was running an illegal business,” Nelson said. “I ran this business for more than four years thinking I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”

In a letter to Nelson dated July 30, a county code-enforcement officer warns that, “As a property owner, you should know what the regulations are.”

Nelson said she was “shocked” by the letter, and that she disagrees with county officials or area residents who claim rental properties are causing congestion or safety issues.

“I run a very professional business,” she said. “The cabins are very well maintained — that’s how we do business. We don’t have any problems. We only allow so many cars, and so many people.”

One of Nelson’s customers, who identified himself as Sam Kiteley in a letter he sent to the Boulder commissioners, wrote that the economics of the “little mountain communities” are fragile.

“The rental-cabin business is a fairly notable piece of the pie,” Kiteley wrote. “(My family has) stayed in about nine different places. All of ’em were absolutely wonderful — picturesque, safe, sound, comfortable and accommodating.”

Nelson said her cabin owners, who pay her a commission for each rental, also stand to lose large amounts of income.

During peak summer months of June, July and August, a four-bedroom cabin in the area might be out as much as $24,000, according to Nelson. Smaller cabins, she said, could miss out on $7,800 for the same three-month period.

“We want to see if we can get some kind of dialogue going — instead of (the county) locking us up on the first of January,” Nelson said.

Byrne, the attorney representing cabin owners, said he thinks the county’s ordinances from the 1950s allow for “tourist automobile camps,” which today would equate to cabin rentals.

Either way, Byrne said the county should be willing to compromise on the issue. He said Colorado civil zoning-enforcement laws would permit the county to fine cabin owners who keep renting their properties out after Jan. 1 as much as $100 per day.

“It would seem to me that the right way to approach this is to determine what the concerns are from a public health and safety aspect and to address them proactively — without treating the owners of these cabins as criminals,” he said. “It’s not like they’re meth labs.”
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