Rosemary Donahue’s cabin near Allenspark in Boulder County on Wednesday. Boulder County is updating its short-term rental regulations that would make it more challenging to get a license for short-term rentals. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
Rosemary Donahue’s cabin near Allenspark in Boulder County on Wednesday. Boulder County is updating its short-term rental regulations that would make it more challenging to get a license for short-term rentals. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that Wildfire Partners is a Boulder County program that assists homeowners with mitigation.

Boulder County on Thursday approved updates to the county’s short-term rental regulations that require those operating short-term and vacation rentals to obtain licenses.

The county commissioners unanimously approved both the land use code text amendments related to short-term dwelling rentals and bed and breakfasts as well as a new ordinance for licensing short-term and vacation rentals in the unincorporated areas of Boulder County.

Among other things, the regulations make the process for obtaining a short-term rental license more challenging, dictate operating requirements and ramp up enforcement, likely through a third-party company such as Host Compliance. Boulder County Senior Planner Jasmine Rodenburg said the updating process began in 2019 because of concerns about the impact voiced by neighbors as well as the fact that the county’s current regulations were approved in 2008 and are outdated.

“This is not an easy issue, but I think it is entirely necessary that we pass something in order to update our regulations, which were woefully out of date with a fast-moving phenomenon, which is short-term rentals,” Commissioner Elise Jones said.

Commissioner Matt Jones agreed.

“This process is broken right now, and it needs to be fixed,” he said.

Upon approval, the commissioners opted to make a few minor adjustments. They removed a requirement that vacation rentals be on at least 1 acre, and they changed the timeline for review of the approved regulations from one to three years following adoption to one to two years.

Additionally, the commissioners decided to remove a requirement that a short-term rental post its license outside the home and chose to allow Wildfire Partners, a Boulder County Community Planning & Permitting program that assists Boulder County homeowners with wildfire mitigation, to determine what is safest for outdoor fires such as fire pits and then will clarify any rules or limitations based on that feedback.

The changes designate separate use categories with primary dwelling short-term rentals and secondary dwelling short-term rentals as “accessory residential uses” and vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts as “principal lodging uses.”

The county considers vacation rentals to have the highest risk of impact to the area and to affordable housing stock so it’s placed the most restrictions on that category and will require those properties to go through the most stringent review process. These are properties rented out more than 60 days a year, and Boulder County is prohibiting any from being located in platted areas or dense neighborhoods.

To be considered a secondary dwelling short-term rental, a property must not be rented more than 60 days a year and must require a two-night minimum stay. Short-term rental operators were concerned about this as many use mountain cabin rentals to supplement their income and prepare for retirement.

As can be typical of land use cases, opinions of all kinds were voiced during Thursday’s public hearing.

Some felt the regulations will be a serious detriment, while several residents worried about fire risk, noise and traffic and argued that the negative effects of short-term rentals far outweigh the benefits.

Thomas Byrnes said he moved to the mountains for peace and quiet.

“We want to hold on to that,” he said.

Several others who spoke in public comment said they thought the new rules were meant to dissuade short-term rentals altogether.

“The licensing requirements are intended to create so many barriers to rental activity that it will be impossible for most people to get a license,” Sam Arieti, an Allenspark property owner, said.

Other short-term rental operators, such as Linda Martin, a Coal Creek Canyon resident and local manager with Boulder’s SkyRun Vacation Rentals, said they see regulations and enforcement as positives.

“There are many of us who really are passionate about doing short-term rentals correctly and without a negative impact to the neighborhoods. We strive to partner with our neighborhoods,” Martin said.

However, she also worried that the new regulations would make it difficult for those looking to supplement their income by renting out a second home or cabin in the mountains, and she hoped the county would take some additional time to make a few changes.