Summit County Council to hold public hearing for moratorium on nightly rentals
Under the draft ordinance, no licenses would be issued to give the county time to examine the topic
The Summit County Council is slated to hold a public hearing at the next meeting as it considers whether to approve a 6-month moratorium on nightly rental licenses in response to growing concerns across the community.
The County Council seemed poised to vote on the measure Wednesday following a May 11 work session where staffers discussed passing a temporary ordinance prohibiting new licenses in unincorporated Summit County as they seek solutions to ongoing problems with short-term rentals. Questions from some county councilors and opposition from the Park City Board of Realtors led the topic to be tabled until next week.
“For reasons I don’t understand other than a room full of people saying ‘Please don’t do that because property rights’ … we are going to stand down on an ordinance that would give us even the briefest of time to come up with licensing requirements,” County Councilor Roger Armstrong said. “I don’t understand what pressure there is to not have a moratorium in place.”
Under the draft ordinance, no nightly rental licenses would be given during the six months to give the county time to examine the issue. Lynda Viti, a deputy county attorney, said a moratorium wouldn’t impact many people because licenses for this year had to be renewed by Jan. 15 or a late fee would be issued.
Those who already have a nightly rental license would be unaffected, but properties without one would be prevented from applying until next year if a moratorium is adopted. Staffers said this would allow them to sort through the number of legal short-term rentals while teasing out units that don’t meet the necessary standards.
The current Summit County rules state the only requirement for a nightly rental is for the owner to obtain a license that includes their contact details and sales-tax collection information. However, officials suspect most units used for short-term rentals are not properly licensed.
Armstrong admitted the efforts won’t be easy and estimated there are 8,000 nightly rentals countywide, which is about 22% of housing in Summit County. He said the growing number of short-term rentals has led to a long-term housing deficit as property owners accommodate visitors rather than the workforce.
“That represents a significant number of units that have been taken off the long-term housing market,” Armstrong said. “Again, we wouldn’t be able to affect anything within the Park City limits … but it’s a really difficult nut to crack and I think we at least need to have the freedom to do that work to see where we wind up with it.”
Beyond housing concerns, County Councilor Glenn Wright said elected officials also need to consider imposing rules for parking at these addresses, mandating smoke detectors and determining where nightly rentals should be allowed when rewriting the licensing ordinance. Part of the process could include identifying properties that would likely be used for longer than 30 days if short-term rentals were banned.
County Councilor Doug Clyde agreed and said it’s not unreasonable for the local government to restrict nightly rentals if it’s for the overall welfare of the community.
“We are not just a resort. There are people who live here who want to be part of these communities, who want to know their neighbors, who want their kids to play in the park and who don’t want to be disturbed late at night when you get some cars next door,” Clyde said. “There are a lot of neighborhoods, even in Park City there are zones right now where you cannot do nightly rentals … that is not an unreasonable thing for a government authority to do.”
Clyde said elected officials only need to demonstrate a reasonable argument that they’re acting in the interest of the people, which overrides counterarguments about property rights and lost income from not being able to rent – inciting jeers from the audience. He continued that the government must balance property rights with public rights.
Under state law, local governments cannot stop rental operators from listing properties on websites like Airbnb and VRBO, but they can enforce other regulations that limit the number of guests, issue fines for improper licensure, restrict the number of units in a certain zone or ban them outright if they affect the character of a neighborhood.
Armstrong said with a nearly 50% increase in nightly rental applications – there were 699 short-term rental applications in the county in 2019 and the number increased to 916 applications so far this year – elected officials should pause the process until they can figure out what changes are needed. County Councilor Chris Robinson questioned if more people would apply for a license if a moratorium isn’t adopted because they realize the rules could change as the talks continue.
County Councilor Malena Stevens acknowledged there are issues with nightly rentals in the community and said the County Council must determine what the areas of concern are, but she questioned the connection between regulating business licenses and changes to zoning, which was a possibility discussed at a previous meeting. Stevens said elected officials have many broad goals but need a clear understanding of the issue and how different neighborhoods are affected before taking action — prompting applause from the opposition.
“Without first having a more clear understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish with this, I’m not sure how to make that link,” she said.
However, the process for changes to licenses or zoning will be different depending on how the County Council proceeds. Dave Thomas, the county’s chief civil attorney, said a full zoning process is required if the elected officials want to adopt an overlay zone for nightly rentals.
One disadvantage of changing zoning is that some property owners may argue they have a legal non-conforming use, also known as grandfathered uses, meaning the units were legal when established but no longer meet with the current zoning ordinance. Thomas said that’s why many jurisdictions don’t make the change to their zoning code and instead focus on licensing.
“Part of the problem is, for the most part, short-term rentals are all happening in residential neighborhoods that are zoned residential. So how do you differentiate between those? That becomes problematic where you have residential neighborhoods who are generally similarly situated and you’re going to say this one neighborhood gets to have rentals and this one doesn’t,” Thomas said. “Those are the kinds of problems you’re going to get into if you try to resolve this through zoning whereas if you resolve the issues you have, the health, safety and welfare issues, you can probably resolve those most easily through amending your short-term rentals ordinance licensing.”
As elected officials continued their discussion and more questions arose, Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson said she was concerned about taking public comment because the meeting wasn’t noticed as a public hearing and the input may be skewed.
Clyde said he didn’t want to vote on a moratorium until a public hearing was held and Stevens seemed to agree, saying more time was needed to consider the options. Wright said the ordinance should be taken as the first step while connected issues are discussed in the future.
Armstrong appeared frustrated that some elected officials didn’t want to take action on Wednesday.
“Two weeks ago, we told the County Attorney’s Office to draft a moratorium ordinance. We all sat here and said do it. Now we’ve got one in front of us, nothing’s changed. We’ve got all of those nightly rentals out there. They’re not complying with any of the health, safety and welfare issues that the lodging industry has to comply with. We’ve heard complaints from people about impacts … we get those constantly. That’s not changing,” he said.
The County Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the merits of the moratorium at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 1 at the Ledges Event Center in Coalville.
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