Despite ongoing efforts to build housing and acquire land for housing, such as the Tower House property, Telluride officials are grappling with a shortage of employee housing that some are calling unprecedented. The housing subcommittee, a group comprised of Town Council members, met with staff and the public Tuesday morning to kick around and prioritize actionable ideas to address the crisis. (Planet file photo)

With an acute housing crisis dominating community discussion, town officials met Tuesday morning to brainstorm and prioritize ideas to address an issue that is beleaguering not only Telluride but mountain towns throughout the region and elsewhere in the country. Town Council’s housing subcommittee honed in on two points for further discussion — camping and the revision of regulations surrounding short-term rentals — as immediate steps that could be taken to relieve the crisis. The committee’s members are Mayor DeLanie Young, Mayor Pro Tem Todd Brown, and council members Adrienne Christy and Geneva Shaunette.

The group agreed to first focus on matters that the town had the ability to act. Young echoed a comment Christy made regarding the town’s powers.

“What Adrienne said is very important. There are things that the town can do, and there are things that the town cannot do,” Young said. “I don't think that this is a one-off discussion and I don't think we're going to stop talking about the rest of the ideas.”

Potential amendments to the municipal code that council could enact sooner rather than later would be considering revocation of a short-term rental license for violations, and limiting the number of licenses issued to any one person or company, a trend that is happening now as speculators snap up properties.

“I hear a lot of things around Town Hall and Rebekah Hall and the community about where we have trouble trying to enforce the rules that we already have,” Brown said. “And one of the ones that seems to be the most egregious is the trend towards, I’ll call it, an individual or an organization buying multiple properties for the sole purpose of short-term renting. And we were aware that this might happen a couple of years ago. And we know some other communities tried to get ahead of that. And that's one of the things that I'd like to structure discussion of going forward. There are a lot of different ways to do that, but the one that has seemed to be the most doable is limiting the number of licenses that any one individual or any one entity can offer for short-term rental. The bulk of the comments that I have received are from people who own condos in town who aren't here all the time, they're part-time locals, and they want to be able to short-term rent them when they're not here, which makes a lot of sense, but not when they've got four or five units, and that's where it starts to get really problematic.”

Town attorney Kevin Geiger said his office actually stays quite busy with enforcement activities.

“If there's a perception that the town is not enforcing or there are not enforcement actions on short-term rentals, I wanted to dissuade people of that notion,” Geiger said. “Last year, we assessed approximately $223,000 in fines or short-term rental violations, and we collected just under $62,000 in delinquent taxes penalties or interest related to those same violations. We have been very diligent on tracking down short-term rentals. We have a very robust auditing system on that. And I think my impression is that those who are violating the applicable restrictions, whether it be for business licensing, taxation, limited duration, they do so at their peril because we will catch you. We will catch people doing this.”

Geiger said changing the code would be the way to increase fees or impose stricter penalties for short-term rental violations.

“If you're looking to change fees or impose an additional fee on, for instance, a business license that's associated with a short-term rental or impose the, what I heard was the ‘two strikes and you're out’ penalty, to be clear on that I think you would want to have a change to your municipal code,” he said. “I do think you would need to make those changes through an amendment to the municipal code which is an ordinance, not complicated, but it does require some process.”

That process would include a council work session , and two readings of any proposed amendments to the municipal code before passage.

Kathy Green submitted a letter to the committee that detailed her ideas.

“We are in the most serious housing crisis that I have seen in Telluride in over 40 years,” Green’s letter opened. “I am so sad when I ask business owners or their employees how they are, how they really are, and they start to cry from overwork and stress as they tell me. As I town resident, I am sad and frustrated when various stores and restaurants start to reduce the days they can be open due to employee shortages. We are at a point where dark houses and condos are better than short-term occupied ones. There are long-term and short-term solutions. I am tired of trying to offer only ‘carrots.’ It is the time for requirements and regulations.”

She pointed out that council will soon have an opportunity to legislate increased affordable housing mitigation for new development.

“Town Council will have an opportunity at the end of August to do their first vote on going to 100 percent required mitigation for all future development,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting. “That won't create units now but we need to get that in place before any more development goes in for building permits, and we need to adopt it now. Be courageous. Go for 100 percent.”

Also up for more detailed discussion will be camping as a way to broaden housing opportunities, including potentially relaxing the current ban on camping in public right-of-ways, using other town-owned property for long-term seasonal camping, such as Town Park or the lot east of Clark’s, which the town recently purchased for housing. Shaunette wanted to bring private property options into the camping discussion.

“I would also like to suggest we discuss allowing paid camping on private property, because right now I know we allow free camping on private property,” she said. “You can park an RV in someone's driveway and stay there with their permission but you cannot charge money for that and I think that that could potentially make that more palatable. If people could charge some money for someone to say use their shower and bathroom in addition to parking in their driveway or in their backyard, at least as a discussion point, I think that's part of the camping discussion. It's not just how do we use public property.”

Young thanked those in attendance who offered up myriad ideas to ease the housing crisis at the close of the session.

“I can't thank everyone enough, especially members of the public who did sit in on this meeting who made comments, who are listening intently,” she said. “And to go back to the very beginning of the meeting, no idea that has a potential housing solution tied to it is a bad idea. There are just some ideas that we can't do legally, or that have been vetted and failed. But sometimes the time is right to revisit those ideas that may not have worked recently or in the recent past.”