By Clayton Chaney
The Archuleta County Planning Commission held a meeting on March 31 at which it approved proposed changes to the county’s Land Use Regulations in regard to illegally divided parcels (IDP) and the short-term rental (STR, also known as vacation rental) permit process, standards and regulations.
The planning commission held two meetings in which it reviewed and approved the proposed changes.
At a work session held by the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) on April 13, Development Director Pamela Flowers presented the proposed changes to the board.
In order for the proposed changes to be adopted, the BoCC must vote on a resolution approving the changes at a BoCC meeting.
Flowers began her presentation at the work session on April 13 by reviewing proposed changes in Section 1 of the Land Use Regulations pertaining to general administration.
According to a staff report prepared by Flowers, the only change in this section is the modification of the language describing the county’s enforcement power of “Stop Work” to include the ability to “Suspend Use.”
It is noted in the report that “The changes to Section 22.214.171.124 are intended to clarify that the County may suspend a previously approved use because it is unsafe or deviates from agreed upon conditions, or a use that is unpermitted.”
In the context of STRs, this would allow the county to direct an STR owner to remove advertisements and cancel bookings “until the unsafe or unpermitted situation is resolved,” the report notes.
Flowers then discussed proposed changes in Section 3 of the county’s Land Use Regulations, which pertains to zoning regulations.
According to the report, the planning commission has proposed eliminating a paragraph outlining the “Administrative Conditional Use Permit” which was exclusively used for STR permitting.
A new section was created, Section 126.96.36.199, which outlines the submittal requirements for a STR permit.
Some of the submittal requirements include property details and contact information for the property owner, caretaker and applicant; a recorded property ownership deed; proof of neighbor and owners’ association notification; proposed rules for renters; and a parking plan site map.
Flowers noted a change in the language from “Local Contact” to “Caretaker.” She explained that the role of the “Caretaker” is further defined in Section 5.5.6.
Also noted in this section is that if the property is listed as trust or LLC, additional documents revealing all individuals associated with the property will need to be submitted.
Flowers notes in the report that in the existing language “there is no discussion of proof of neighbor notification required” and the new language requires proof via certificates of mailing.
Another change in the submittal requirements for an STR permit include that an aerial map of the property, rather than a sketch, must be submitted.
She explained in the work session that applicants can use screenshots from Google Maps to meet this requirement.
Flowers notes in her report, “This requirement is again to support our enforcement efforts.”
The final new proposed submittal requirement is that applicants will need to submit their proposed advertisements for the planning commission to review.
Flowers explained during the work session that applicants would be allowed to post their advertisements while their application is being reviewed, but would not be allowed to accept bookings until the permit is issued.
She then discussed proposed changes in Section 188.8.131.52 which pertains to the approval and effect of STR permits.
Flowers explained that this section indicates that STR permits do not run with the land. This means that if ownership of the property changes, the STR permit will be voided and the new owner would have to apply for another permit.
Additionally, she explained that this section introduces two new inspection incidences.
Currently, properties are to be inspected upon the initial permit application. The two new instances would be after any complaints on the property are received and with a renewal application.
Section 184.108.40.206(7)(8) explains that “failing to renew the permit on time will result in the Closing of the permit, and would require a brand new application,” Flowers’ report notes.
She explained that property owners will be notified via email with a reminder to renew 30-60 days before their current permit expires.
Next, Flowers discussed proposed changes in Section 4 in regard to subdivision regulations.
This section is “all about improperly divided parcels,” Flowers said.
IDPs are parcels that are less than 35 acres, outside a subdivision, created after a state statute in 1972, but before 2006 when the county first implemented its Land Use Regulations.
She notes in her report that “All changes in this section are related to the approximately 500 remaining Improperly Divided Parcels in the County. This entire change was taken from Resolution 2018-54, Reception #21807304, dated 12/10/2018 which established the interim program to provide an administrative process to resolve Improperly Divided Parcels.”
Flowers explained during the work session that a few minor adjustments were made to this system to solidify this program for permanent use.
Flowers notes in her report that illegal lots, created after May 2006, which did not follow the Land Use Regulation procedures, would not qualify for this program.
She also explained during the work session that the Planning Department is hoping to accelerate this process, with a goal of making a final determination within 30-45 days.
Flowers noted during the work session that the Planning Department will not be issuing permits of any kind for IDPs.
Flowers then discussed changes in Section 5 of the Land Use Regulations, which pertains to developmental standards.
Her report notes, “This section contains performance and development standards for all Accommodations and Lodging, including Vacation Rentals.”
Additionally she notes that there are no standards for lodging or bed-and-breakfast establishments in the current code.
Flowers notes in her report that the standards presented in sections 5.5.1 through 5.5.3 and portions of Section 5.5.6 are taken from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sanity standards and regulations for public accommodation.
Section 220.127.116.11 establishes two categories of STRs: owner occupied and nonowner occupied.
Flowers explained during the work session that owner occupied is defined as a STR where the owner lives full-time in the home or in another dwelling on the same parcel. Nonowner occupied STRs are those for which the owner does not reside on the property.
According to Flowers’ report, Section 18.104.22.168(1) explains that a caretaker of an STR property must reside within 60 miles of the property.
Section 22.214.171.124(2) notes that if a property owner is applying for a STR permit, it will not be approved if the applicant is not in compliance with all other county Land Use Regulations.
Commissioner Ronnie Maez commented on this section, saying, “I’m not sure I like that one.”
“The goal here is to get people motivated to fix the problem that they have,” Flowers said.
“I see it as kind of a bit of an overreach,” Maez said.
No density rules in regard to the number of STRs allowed are in the current Land Use Regulations.
Flowers’ report includes a proposed density rule allowing for 5 percent of parcels to be approved as STRs in major subdivisions (four or more parcels). The same rule is proposed for condominium and townhome complexes.
For minor subdivisions (three or fewer parcels), Flowers proposed that only one STR be allowed.
It is noted in Flowers’ report that no permits will be revoked in order to meet the density rules. Property owners will be allowed to continue to renew their permits.
Commissioner Warren Brown questioned Flowers during the work session about where the 5 percent density rule was derived from.
Flowers indicated that the city of Miami uses that rule.
She noted that the planning commission researched other mountain town communities within the state.
Section 126.96.36.199 deals with space and occupancy standards. Flowers’ report highlights that the dwelling limits “are the same as before, two (2) guests per bedroom plus two (2) more per dwelling.”
Additionally, guest capacity limits and structural and fire safety standards are defined in the section, which also indicates that all advertisements include the property’s STR permit number.
Other changes in the section on space and occupancy standards include that composting toilets and outhouses are not adequate sanitary facilities for STRs.
Additionally, Flowers proposed a change in the section that would require each STR to display an identification sign.
According to Flowers’ report, “The sign will be made of aluminum and will display guest limit, parking limit, and phone number to the County 24-hour complaint line to report violations.”
The sign would be provided by the county. However, if the sign is damaged, lost or stolen it would cost the property owner $25 to replace it.
Flowers notes in her report that this is a totally new requirement intended to discourage guest limit violations.
Multiple members of the public expressed safety concerns with this proposed requirement, suggesting it advertises that the home is often vacant.
Among other things, space and occupancy standards and constraints were also outlined in Flower’s report, with limitations proposed: “Sub-sections here also describe how guest capacity will be calculated and now requires excess bed capacity to be removed from the home.”
Room size, ceiling height and bed capacity standards are also outlined in the proposed changes.
Flowers also proposed several changes to definitions and tables “that seek to avoid conflict in the regulation and clarify some of the terms used,” Flowers notes in her report.
She indicated that these changes are only needed if the changes in the previous sections are approved.
County Attorney Todd Weaver spoke about the possibility of putting a moratorium in place in order to allow the BoCC more time to make a decision about the proposed changes.
“This would allow the county to work through these without feeling rushed,” Weaver said. “I think it’d be a wise thing to do.”
Maez commented, “I’m not in favor of a moratorium, but I can see the advantageous side of it to where we can actually implement a good policy.”
Brown, the BoCC’s vice chair, served as chair for the work session and allowed for public comment.
Brown noted that he felt like this is an important issue and although it is not required for the BoCC to allow public comment at a work session, he allowed six members of the public to comment.
Stuart Scall was the first to give public comment and voiced concerns of how these proposed changes will affect homes currently in escrow. His biggest concern was why it was happening now.
He noted that the recent approval of increased fees will “curb” the number of STRs in the county.
Bruce Jones spoke with concerns about what the “vision” is for the future of the community.
Mike Hearty spoke about Pagosa Springs being a tourist community for more than 50 years and noted that many mountain communities don’t have any density restrictions; he noted that a density rule or cap would be detrimental to the local economy.
Kathy Hansen spoke with concerns about the proposed sign requirement.
She mentioned that if neighbors are required to be notified when a property owner applies for a STR permit, a sign does not seem practical.
Thomas Swindler commented in the Zoom chat, writing, “No signs. Invites crime!”
Jim Browne also voiced safety concerns about the sign requirement.
“I think that may be an invitation to criminals,” Browne said.
Additionally, he commented in the chat, saying, “Why don’t we post a sign to invite criminals to break into our 2nd homes advertising that it might not be occupied all the time…come on in and take whatever you want.”
April 20 meeting
Brown indicated that the BoCC is expected hear the proposed changes at its next regular board meeting scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on April 20.
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