By Clayton Chaney
The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) held a Land Use Regulations (LUR) hearing on Tuesday, April 20, during which the board approved Resolution 2021-29, which approved amendments to sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 11.
However, the hearing and approved changes to the LUR have not been officially adopted as the county failed to give proper notice of the hearing.
According to the Colorado Revised Statutes 30-28-116, the county is required to publish a notice of the hearing in a newspaper of general circulation of the county 14 days prior to the meeting. The first notice was published in the April 8 issue of The SUN, allowing for only 12 days of notice.
Due to this violation, the BoCC has rescheduled the hearing to take place at 1:30 p.m. on May 18, during the regular board meeting scheduled for that date. The BoCC will take additional public comment at the hearing.
The login information will be posted on the meeting’s agenda, which will be posted four days before the meeting. That can be found at: https://www.archuletacounty.org/AgendaCenter.
Citizens can also sign up to receive automatic notifications for meetings of their choosing on the county’s website, www.archuletacounty.org.
More than 150 people were in attendance, both virtually and in person, for the hearing on April 20. Multiple members of the public spoke for and against the proposed amendments.
Development Director Pamela Flowers began the discussion on the proposed amendments by stating, “It is important to note that the implication of vacation rental permitting in 2018 instituted very few standards.”
She explained the purpose of the proposed amendments is to provide more clarity to vacation rental (VR) owners and operators and to “define reasonable expectations.”
Flowers also stated, “It is equally important to remember that when a property owner applies for a vacation rental permit, they are changing the use of their home from personal residence to public accommodation, which can and should be regulated.”
Majority of the discussion revolved around the proposed amendments to Section 5 of the LUR, which pertains to lodging and VR standards.
Flowers initially spoke in regard to Section 126.96.36.199, which proposed a 5 percent density limit on VRs per neighborhood.
She explained that 70 percent of the county’s 134 major subdivisions and condominium complexes would fall below the 5 percent density restriction.
“Please also keep in mind that there is no cap for rural parcels, for which there are more than 2,000, is being proposed at all. The data shows that there is plenty of room for growth in the county for vacation rental permits,” Flowers stated.
She continued to emphasize that even if the BoCC approved all of the proposed amendments, there would be the same amount of VRs in the county tomorrow as there are today.
“Nothing in the proposed amendments would result in a single vacation rental permit being revoked,” Flowers added.
She also explained that currently permitted properties in neighborhoods that are over the proposed 5 percent limit would be grandfathered in under the previous LUR codes, allowing them to continue operating as long as permits are renewed on time and the property does not have any violations.
Homes in escrow would be grandfathered in as well, and would be allowed 30 days after final closing on a property to apply for a VR permit, Flowers explained.
Flowers also addressed some of the concerns previously expressed by the public in regard to the proposed changes.
She acknowledged that Archuleta County has historically been a tourist destination and, “There is no reason to penalize those who do not make our area their full-time residence but do contribute significantly to the economy.”
Flowers also acknowledged the concern of the proposed amendment requiring VR properties to place a sign on the exterior of the home, identifying the home as such, and that it would attract criminal activity.
She explained that the signs would be an important additional tool for the county to facilitate the standards of the property by noting how many guests and cars are allowed at the property along with a complaint hotline number for neighbors to call if they notice any violations.
Commissioner Ronnie Maez voiced his opposition of this requirement.
“The signs, I’m not in favor of at all,” Maez said. “It will inherently look bad.”
He also explained how the requirement of having a sign posted could cause controversy with multiple homeowners associations that currently prohibit signs.
Maez also spoke in opposition to the proposed 5 percent density limit, saying, “The 5 percent, I think is awful low, I think we can reach a reasonable percentage maybe by further discussion.”
Flowers also acknowledged the concerns with the proposed amendment of regulating the number of beds within VR properties.
There is “clearly a widespread problem with the over-renting of vacation rentals,” Flowers said.
She explained that the signs would help prevent over-renting issues.
Flowers also spoke about the concern that the density limit would cause some homes to lose their value if it cannot be used as a VR and that investors looking to purchase properties in the county would not have as many options.
Flowers noted that there would be “literally thousands of parcels from which to choose.”
The BoCC divided public comment periods to correlate with the different sections of the proposed amendments. The board grouped together public comment for sections 1, 4 and 11 as there has not been much controversy over those, as County Attorney Todd Weaver noted.
No public comment was made for these sections.
The amendment for Section 1 included the addition of the county’s ability to “Suspend Use” for any permit that has “an uncorrected violation of a provision of these Regulations,” as stated in the agenda documents.
Amendments in Section 4 include the adoption of a permanent application process for illegally divided parcels to obtain legal lot status.
Amendments in Section 11 include changes to the definitions of a boundary line adjustment, improperly divided parcel, kitchen and illegal lot.
The BoCC did not offer any comments or questions in regard to these sections before voting to approve the amendments as presented.
The BoCC then held a public comment period for the proposed amendments in Section 3, which concerns the VR permit process.
Joe Hough spoke during this period, but did not have concerns in relation to Section 3.
He spoke about how he feels that if the county limits VRs, it will have a big impact on the local economy.
Commissioner Alvin Schaaf thanked Hough for his comments, but reminded him that his comments were “off-topic” as Section 3 deals with the application process.
At this time a member from the public interrupted the commissioners, stating that the board was making it “very difficult” for the public to follow along.
Weaver then interjected, “I don’t believe you’ve been granted permission to speak at this time.”
Schaaf responded, “We are trying to make it easier for everyone, because we know what the hot topic is.”
“Honestly, I think the public is very aware, if they were listening and staying tuned into the meeting, they should be aware, but if they weren’t, I don’t know how we can help them on this side,” Maez added.
Mike Knapp spoke about a concern with Section 188.8.131.52(1) which would prevent VR permits from running with the land.
Flowers clarified that the VR permit would not run with the land because it is an annual permit.
Brian Stigall spoke with concerns about how the county will notify VR property owners for when it is time to renew their permit.
Flowers explained that the county sends two emails notifying property owners when it is time to renew the permit.
Weaver clarified that the burden of renewal is 100 percent the responsibility of the property owner and any notifications sent out by the county are courtesy notifications.
The BoCC then voted and approved the amendments as presented for Section 3.
Commissioner Warren Brown then spoke with a general summary statement about the current situation with VR properties, and the concerns of the proposed amendments and the effects that they would have on Archuleta County’s local economy.
Brown acknowledged the concerns that by limiting the number of VR properties there will be a “doom and gloom” effect.
He noted he does not believe that would ultimately be the case, but there will be a cause and effect associated with the board’s decision.
“What keeps me up at night is the consideration of making the best decision, being mindful of the individuals’ rights along with the financial health of our community, and coupled with the thought of just because we can, doesn’t mean we necessarily should,” he said.
Brown stated that he is opposed to the proposed 5 percent density restriction due to the fact that the board recently approved fee increases for non-owner-occupied VR permits.
Brown noted he believes the main conflict is not about where the VR properties are located, but rather the behavior of the guests.
Additionally, Brown noted that the regulations put into place in 2018 clearly implied that additional changes to the regulations would be needed.
Brown also stated that he would “encourage those who have strong feelings about what happens in their community to get involved,” either through joining a board, commission or attending more public meetings so that the county can “move forward together.”
Brown also noted there will be more discussion on this matter in the future regardless of the board’s decision.
“I think we have to be very careful about where we tread at this point and be cognizant of some of the untended consequences this may bring,” Brown said.
“We got to move forward together, but we can’t do it by not paying attention,” Maez added.
Bill Hudson spoke in favor of a density limit, noting that in Santa Fe, N.M., the community has established a 2.7 percent density restriction.
Ernie O’Toole commented in the public chat, writing, “I do not want to degrade my quality of life so that someone from someplace else can afford a second home.”
Stacy Mergans spoke in favor of a 5 percent density cap, noting that she has experienced multiple problems with VR properties in her neighborhood.
“My quality of life has severely suffered,” Mergans said. “I am not against short-term rentals, but I do believe the county has to do a better job of enforcing and reporting and not renewing properties that are proven to be a nuisance.”
Schaaf noted that he agreed the county needed to do a better job with enforcement and that he hoped the hiring of two new people would help.
“Short-term rental owners, realtors, across the board — and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, maybe it’s right, maybe it’s wrong, I don’t know, that’s not my decision to make — but I have noticed a common trend that everybody wants private-property rights. OK, to a T, everybody I’ve talked to. But what’s getting lost here is the person who actually lives there who doesn’t want another short-term rental and has problems with the rentals. What I hear is, ‘Well, they have the right to sell and leave,’” he said.
Schaaf suggested that approach from was “coming across wrong,” and added soon after, “So, why are their rights less than your rights?”
Schaaf noted that was an observation from discussing the topic with people.
Shawn Steen, who grew up in Pagosa Springs but currently resides in California, spoke in opposition to the 5 percent density restriction.
He noted limiting the VRs would prevent him from being able to visit the community as he is currently investing in a retirement home in the county, which he planned to operate as a VR.
Rae Greathouse, who resides in Amarillo, Texas, spoke in opposition to the 5 percent density restriction, noting that she believes it is an overreach of government.
She also noted she thinks “it’s amazing” that people have been able to live in Pagosa for 40 plus years, but she explained that for many younger entrepreneurs, the only way for them to be able to retire and get to Pagosa Springs will be from operating VR properties until they are able to move and live here full-time.
Wende Calvert spoke in opposition to the sign requirement proposed.
She noted that Albuquerque, N.M., established a similar requirement and that it led to higher crime rates.
O’Toole spoke in favor of restricting VR properties in the county, noting he has experienced violence with some VR guests in his neighborhood.
Stuart Scull questioned why there seems to be such an urgency to update the LUR.
He also informed the BoCC that members of the local community, including VR owners and realtors, have started a Pagosa Springs vacation homeowners association in order to improve communication between the BoCC and stakeholders in the community.
At the end of the public comment period for this section, Schaaf noted that “Private property rights are important.”
Maez noted that the only way to go back to the drawing board was to put a moratorium in place, which he was not in favor of.
“I know … there’s people who feel like this was just a rush thing,” Schaaf said. “It hasn’t been a rush thing.”
Schaaf suggested the planning commission held several posted meetings and that it is to the benefit of everyone in the community to be more involved.
“And, like Commissioner Maez said, this is not set in stone,” he said. “This is not something, regardless of the decision we make today, that we can’t revisit six months from now. If it’s not working, we can change it. … I’d much rather make a decision than not make a decision. We can fix bad decisions …”
Schaaf noted that indecision is never a good decision in his opinion, adding that he wants to work with everybody.
Resolution 2021-29 was approved by the BoCC as presented with adjustments made to remove the 5 percent density restriction, the sign requirement and the requirement that would force VR owners to remove any excess beds that put them over their rental guest limit.