Short-term rental guidelines discussed
SUBLETTE COUNTY – About 18 people attended the March 25 public workshop about county short-term rentals – almost all Airbnb and Vacation Rental By Owner – while the Sublette County Planning and Zoning Commission and staff listened. Several attended via Zoom. Commissioner Ken Marincic asked if anyone there was from “south of Daniel” or Big Piney and Marbleton – none were.
County planner Dennis Fornstrom opened with an informal, anonymous online survey to ask “broad questions,” getting about 400 responses.
Because short-term rentals are not specifically listed in county planning and zoning regulations as an approved use of a residence, some Airbnb hosts undertook a lengthy process to have Sublette County commissioners approve a conditional-use permit or CUP.
The closest similar “conditional use” is for a bed and breakfast, with few guidelines.
The P&Z Commission hopes to define aspects of short-term rentals (STRs), then decide if and how they should be regulated.
Planning staff Alan Huston presented possible questions and goals, saying the county needs “to bring all land development and uses into compliance with the zoning and development regulations of Sublette County.”
Huston broke down existing rights and uses to show STRs do not fall into any category.
In rural residential districts, “permitted by right” are a single-family dwelling, livestock compliance and a guesthouse or cabin. Current “conditionally permitted” uses are public facilities, bed and breakfast and rental of a guesthouse or cabin.
Deputy county attorney Clayton Melinkovich said county regulations do not even define “commercial.”
One option for a new or amended regulation is that STRs are “a similar use” to bed and breakfasts, according to Huston.
“For example, it could be established by the respective commissions that STR use is sufficiently similar to ‘home occupation’ or ‘single family dwelling’ that such “residential” use becomes ‘permitted by right,’” he said.
Definitions are very important – “a dwelling unit” is living quarters for one family where rental for less than 30 days is “commercial” and not allowed, he said. Short-term rentals might be both commercial and residential, which means definitions should be added or amended, Huston said.
Another option is a broader policy, he said, looking at both the county’s current regulations and Sublette County Comprehensive Plan. The first calls for orderly development and protection from “incompatible uses.” The second recommends being business-friendly and protecting private property rights by avoiding “excessive” regulation.
Huston outlined six “possible goals” to consider county values, zoning guidelines and public input into account for “an equitable policy:”
- Short-term rentals should be compatible with and not adversely affect surrounding residential uses.
- Property owners have the option to use part of their property for short-term rentals.
- Risks to public safety and residents’ and guests’ health are minimized.
- Maintain property values.
- Promote tourism in and visits to Sublette County.
- Protect property owners from injury with zoning regulation changes.
Chair Blake Greenhalgh suggested defining an STR “host” in the first meeting.
Citizens spoke of enduring nuisances and privacy violations by some STR guests and hosts should be responsible.
Tom Normington is fine with people profiting from their property, he said, but in his very secluded subdivision, one place rents for hundreds of dollars a night and guests treat everyone else’s property like part of their vacation package.
Guests wander around everyone’s yards; their dogs chase residents and ATV traffic is unsafe. Drones fly low around their houses. “By this guy doing (short-term rentals), he is violating my rights to property and privacy.”
Greenhalgh asked if a host could be a rental manager, caretaker or the actual owner.
Delta McCormick has an Airbnb in Daniel and suggested moderate regulation – “Neighbors should not be bothered.”
She recommended a county license with clear expectations from hosts and guests – enough complaints means it is taken away.
Holly Roberts also operates Airbnb rentals in Daniel. The commission should be very careful about requiring an onsite host because her family ranches and she is usually several miles away. She said Airbnbs “bring a whole new dynamic of people here as travelers.”
She supported unregulated or lightly regulated operations: “Tread very lightly with it. We feel very strongly about private property rights.”
Roberts said Airbnb rentals include state lodging tax, which comes back to Sublette County.
Sara Ross, another Airbnb host, said most hosts she knows are “very, very responsible. Most of us want to bring people into this beautiful place where we live.”
Airbnb has strict guidelines for both hosts and guests with house rules and reviews of each other, she said. “If you ever complained about a guest I would deal with it immediately. Hosts don’t get a second chance.”
Andy Mills bought property with few covenants in Bridger Estates because he believes in private property rights. The commission should not “paint the whole county with the same brush.”
Noise problems are a county enforcement situation and there are laws against drones, he said. The county could have a specific mediation process with “bad operators” instead of trying to put every scenario into one regulation.
Commission member Chris Lacinak asked, “What is a bad operator?”
“Someone who does not set clear rules, clear guidelines,” Mills said. “Someone who’s not being a good neighbor.”
Kris Bachellor spoke about her Pinedale Airbnb and others, saying hosts depend on good reviews and maintain their properties. The county does not need new regulations, she added.
“Don’t shut it down or overregulate it. If (a neighbor) is against it, ask why and let’s see if we can discuss it and find a compromise.”
Casey Fairbanks said if someone wants to rent a room in their house short term, they should be able to. “I think it should be unregulated personally. It’s private property. … I don’t think that’s what the government is for.”
“There’s nothing in there now so we need to get the ‘short-term rental use in there,” Greenhalgh said.
Commission member Maike Tan called the “host” issue “complicated. Who’s enforcing (guest rules), the neighbors? If the homeowner is so far away … and there are problems, then the neighbors call in and report it?”
Basically, often the neighbors have to report on nuisance guests, several said.
Jenny Gebner her husband Chris host STRs on a ranch and live there. “I feel comfortable being there. They can contact me any time. I prefer to be there when guests are there.”
She supports little to no regulation “because the conditional-use (B&B) permit seems to cover legal things.”
Mills said STR hosts should be accountable to their neighbors and create good relationships. Neighbors could contact an owner if something happens with a 24-hour phone number would be enough – “A host doesn’t need to be sitting there.”
Forest Wakefield, who owns two Pinedale hotels, spoke over Zoom, saying Airbnb is one of his booking platforms. After working all day in the lodging industry, he wants to go home for peace and quiet. It falls on neighbors like him to report disturbances
“If the owners were there, it wouldn’t be like that,” Wakefield said. “It’s not fair, the property owner with a short-term rental gets the income but I lose peace of mind.”
A regulation could ensure “quiet hours – I like to sleep with my windows open so I can hear the creek.”
Margaret Gillette said on Zoom she favors short-term rentals with light guidelines.
Fornstrom said they will incorporate comments, survey results and county policy and into possible regulations. The public can email or drop off comments to him or the Planning Office.
The Planning & Zoning Commission will have another public short-term rental workshop on April 29, 6 p.m. in the Lovatt Room.