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No room at the inn? Look for rentals

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

The City Council on Tuesday suspended rules on vacation rentals, vending, signs and parking to accommodate the 20,000 to 25,000 visitors expected in August for the start of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

On race day, Aug. 20, parking meters will not be enforced. From Aug. 10 to 22, homeowners can rent their property without having to get a permit or collect lodging and sales taxes.

Mayor Doug Lyon said he was “interested to see how it goes with the suspension of all these ordinances. It will be a good experiment for us.”

The benefits of hosting “the largest event in the history of Durango” and a “marketing opportunity we could never afford” should outweigh the costs of suspending the regulations, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.

Officials anticipate the bicycle race through the Rockies will draw 150 media representatives and will be broadcast around the world.

August is normally a peak time anyway for hotel occupancy. Last year, Durango and Estes Park led the state with the highest occupancy rates at 85 percent. The average daily rate for a hotel room was $170, said John Cohen, executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office.

“We’re going to be in a situation where we’re going to be over 100 percent occupancy,” Cohen said in an interview. “Every traditional room in a hotel, motel and B&B is going to be taken. Fort Lewis College is going to be filled to the brim.”

Durango and La Plata County have a lodging capacity of 2,007 rooms for a maximum occupancy of 4,560 lodgers, but this estimate does not include vacation rentals.

To free more rooms, the city will not impose any fees or require permits, but people renting their homes and condos will be asked to register with the city’s finance department.

While Cohen understood the justification, he anticipated some current landlords of vacation rentals will think the suspension of the rules is unfair because they have been going to the trouble of getting the permits and collecting taxes.

Vacation rentals are already something of a black market in Durango.

“Even though there’s a lot of vacation rentals that follow all the rules, there’s a lot that fly under the radar,” Cohen said. “That has always been a concern.”

Cohen appreciated that visitors will be generating tax revenue when they eat out and go shopping, but he noted the city would lose revenue from not collecting taxes on the vacation rentals.

Greg Hoch, the city’s chief planner, said the city had decided the tax revenue from the Pro Cycling vacation rentals would not be worth the expense of collecting it.

The city also will ease rules on signs from Aug. 11 to 20. Restrictions on size and display will be suspended as long as people register with the Department of Planning and Community Development and the signs do not pose dangers like blocking fire exits. The signs must be removed by 5 p.m. Aug. 22.

East Second Avenue will become a no-parking zone to make room for cycling team trucks and equipment. City parking lots will be closed Aug. 19-22 to accommodate cyclists and event organizers.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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