Aspen City Council members agreed at a Tuesday work session that short-term rentals in Aspen should be limited in some capacity, but the details will not be confirmed until a meeting later this year.
City staff asked the council for input on the management of the city’s current STR program and possible changes to permitting and regulatory requirements. Council members supported an ordinance that would either put a cap on the number of STRs allowed in the city or create a tiered system that would limit STRs in each municipal zone. Any ordinance passed this year would affect STR permits and business licenses in 2022.
Mayor Torre said permitting by zone made sense to him as opposed to limiting the overall total number of STRs. Looking at a map provided by city staff that showed the concentration of STRs across town, he said some areas, like the commercial core and neighborhoods near the ski areas, have historically been used for STRs while others, like the West End, are meant for residential homes.
“For me, I’m interested by zone,” Torre said. “The reason I say that is because I look over at the West End on our map here, some days I look at this and I think it’s sparse, and other days, I’m like, ‘There’s a lot.’ So I’m just concerned about leveling that area as well.”
A majority of council members supported some tiered system, which would impact the length of time a permit could last. The current municipal code says a permit lasts for 12 months. Council considered shortening some to six months, but City Manager Sara Ott said that decision could come later.
There are currently just over 1,000 vacation rental permits issued for this year in Aspen, Finance Director Pete Strecker said. Most of those have been compliant with the municipal code — the set of rules that requires STRs to adhere to proper communication as well as ordinary trash, wildlife, noise and parking regulations.
Community Development Director Phillip Supino added that approximately 15% of residential structures in town applied for a business license and STR permit this year. Council member Rachel Richards said she would like to dig deeper into the numbers.
“What would happen if you took the affordable housing units out?” she said. “That would put the percentage of short-term rental in our free market residential at a much higher percentage and I’d like to find out what that is.”
Council members also voiced concerns about the impacts on STRs on transit and goals set by the Aspen Area Community Plan. Many STRs in town are operated on Red Mountain, which Richards said is far enough away from downtown that it requires workers and visitors to drive down for dinner or shopping or simply to go home, which causes congestion on the roads in town.
Council member Skippy Mesirow said he was concerned about families in need of affordable housing becoming displaced for the sake of an STR, the possibility of over-tourism and the community impact on neighbors and locals.
“This is a big, painful issue, and it’s the type of issue that I think we can easily get stuck in the forever analysis and study of, and I don’t think the community is really prepared to wait,” he said. “I’m hoping we can take action relatively soon.”
Richards asked to see more information on job growth and how many employees are generated by STRs. She said the city has not mitigated for full-time employees working in vacation rentals and wondered how many workers are currently unaccounted for. Council members also asked for more details about taxation and how collecting taxes on STRs could get the city closer to its affordable housing goals.
City staff will revisit council later this year with more information that council members requested and a list of pros and cons related to limiting STR permits.