STR ballot

Emily Scott Robinson, Hayley Nenadal and Olivia Lavercombe filed a citizen initiated ballot measure that proposes to cap the number of short-term rentals in the Town of Telluride. (Courtesy photo)

On June 30, three Telluride locals filed a citizen-initiated ballot measure that would cap the quantity of short-term rentals in Telluride, “for purposes of promoting long-term rental opportunities for local residents,” according to the proposed ordinance.

The ballot initiative needed support from 5-15 percent of Telluride’s 1,050 voters, which corresponded to 53 signatures. After spending nine days holding space for conversations with community members in public spaces and working with local coffee shops Cowboy Coffee and Ghost Town to help spread awareness, the team garnered 160 signatures and the Telluride Housing Initiative was accepted as a ballot measure on Thursday. 

The ballot will now endure a 40-day “contest period,” in which registered voters in Telluride may “file a protest that describes any portion of the petition or circulator affidavit that fails to meet state law,” according to town clerk Tiffany Kavanaugh. During this time, Town Council cannot “take action,” meaning they cannot adopt the ordinance or send it to the electorate, she added.

It is possible, but less likely, that council could also adopt the initiative as a law without bringing it to a vote after this 40-day period, Telluride local and documentary filmmaker Hayley Nenadal added. If Town Council does not adopt the petition, the measure will appear on the ballot on Election Day, Nov. 2, leaving the choice to Telluride voters.

“We realized that the solution to (the housing crisis) is multifaceted. The solution can't just be one ballot initiative, or one tax, it's got to come from all sides, and that's part of the reason we're doing this –– to start a conversation that's been had in corners and circles, but not as a broad, public conversation,” Nenadal said. “We are giving people an option to vote and speak up about (Telluride’s housing crisis) and doing it (as a citizen’s initiative) makes for better conversation. We have been having people approaching us just wanting to talk about the ordinance and different solutions.”

Telluride resident and The Butcher and the Baker employee Olivia Lavercombe added that, “with (this initiative) being on the ballot, there are now three months of space for productive conversation and that's what we hope to get out of it.”

The ordinance outlines that Telluride residents are “experiencing a severe shortage of long-term rental housing opportunities within the boundaries of the Town” and “a large quantity of long-term rental units within the Town have been converted to short-term rental units within recent years.” The ordinance identifies that a cap would prevent the “loss of existing long-term rental units and promote the switch of some existing short-term rental units back to long-term rental units.”

If passed, the ordinance would restrict the number of short-term rental unit licenses to 400 per year, by way of a yearly lottery system. The twofold lottery system will first draw from applicants “located within the AC-1 (accommodations) and AC-2 zone districts,” and then from all other zone districts, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance would not restrict the number of short-term rental licenses issued to primary residents who provide adequate documentation. The ordinance also would not apply to lodging establishments and units that prohibit long-term rentals and owner occupancy.

Telluride resident and musician Emily Robinson estimated that of the 737 current short-term rental licenses, about 130 of them fabricate the exceptions noted above. She added that initially "marketed as a home sharing platform,” Airbnb has “turned into almost exclusively a short-term rental economy in our town.” She added that the number of short-term rental licenses has increased 75 percent in the past five years.

“We believe that Telluride should value and be very intentional about the number of beds that we provide to tourists and not have unregulated competition within its own town limits,” Robinson said. “We do understand that the short-term rentals provide a great benefit to our community and we want people to utilize homes, but we do need to be able to manage our tourism numbers and they're out of control right now. There's almost no employee retention; there are no places for people to live.”

Lavercombe explained that Telluride’s geographic location calls for a “more strategic” housing framework, as the town cannot “build itself out (of a housing crisis).” 

In response to residents who suggest accommodating members of our workforce in Norwood, Rico, Naturita, Ridgway, and Montrose and having them commute, Robinson explained that this “is not a solution." She said that Telluride’s housing bubble has seen an increase in prices in surrounding areas, creating a domino effect of “driving up prices and displacing local members of those communities who can no longer live there, where they have lived for generations.” 

Utilizing case studies from Crested Butte, Durango, Denver, Boulder, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, and New York, all of whom have imposed strict regulations on short-term rentals, Nenadal added that a short-term rental cap is necessary for Telluride to sustainably balance the influx of tourists with the well being and vibrancy of the long-term community.

All three co-sponsors of the initiative elucidate that a short-term housing cap will not solve the housing crisis and labor shortage on its own. What it will do, they explain, is provide a timely response to address the need to generate 400 additional beds for town employees. The building of additional affordable housing units will take three to five years, Robinson explained. 

“We don’t want to overregulate things; we are just trying to take (short-term rentals) down to a more reasonable, manageable, and sustainable level,” Robinson said. “Short-term rentals directly compete with our hotels with almost no regulations and, at the same time, take away homes from our local workforce. “

Robinson added that unlike short-term rentals, hotels “are required to mitigate their footprint by providing deed restricted units for employees.”

Even though, if passed, the detailed constraints would not be enacted until Jan. 1 2023, Nenadal explained that the first lottery would take place in February 2021 and “immediately addresses peoples’ financial decisions.” Those who have “purchased homes solely on investment” will have to “reevaluate their decision” if they are not able to short-term rent, Lavercombe said.

“Investment, profit, money, and tourism cannot be the only voice in the room; we are not taking them out of the room, but we are putting ourselves in the room to say ‘we need support as well,’” Lavercombe said.

“We have to have a balance between the two –– we rely on tourism, we rely on people coming to this town but we also rely on our workforce and the people that serve that community,” Lavercombe added. “We rely on locals in a restaurant where I work, but also in the medical center, in schools, in the fire department, in the nonprofit sector. Every sector of our community is being impacted and we have to hold each other accountable for what has happened.”

Editor's note: This is the first in an ongoing series of stories covering this ballot issue.