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Colorado lawmakers reject push to prevent local short-term rental rules from applying to backcountry huts, cabins

A cabin is available at CampV in Naturita. Owner Natalie Binder built the camp with her partners Bruce and Jodie Wright using money from the federal government’s Opportunity Zone program in 2020. (Courtesy of CampV)
Senate Bill 213 draws ire of counties

The Colorado Legislature on May 4, amid growing opposition from counties worried about losing their ability to make rules around construction and lodging, killed a bill that would have prevented local governments from imposing short-term rental regulations on backcountry cabins and huts.

Senate Bill 213 was unanimously rejected by the House State, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on May 4 at the request of one of the measure’s main sponsors, Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder.

Amabile said she asked for the bill to be shelved because a “disheartening” narrative had emerged alleging that she and the other main sponsor of the legislation were possibly bribed into introducing the measure. She said she and Senate President Steve Fenberg, another Boulder Democrat, were simply responding to a constituent’s concern.

“I want to make it clear a coalition of Coloradans who are passionate about what makes Colorado Colorado brought this to us,” she said.

Amabile said that in 2020, when the Legislature gave permission to local governments to regulate short-term rentals, they intended for those regulations to address permanent housing.

“Such regulations may inadvertently end up prohibiting the traditional use of a remote recreational property,” she told the committee. “For instance, regulations may specify that short-term rentals have to be a primary residence, they have to have a certain number of parking spots, they can’t allow more than two people per bedroom, they have to have a landline or a reliable cellphone service. And those are good regulations if you have a short-term rental that’s in a town that has power and water and sewer and a driveway. These huts don’t have that.”

She said S.B. 213, which was introduced April 22 and had bipartisan support, was only meant to prevent local short-term rental regulations from affecting off-grid properties that are not suitable as permanent housing.

“I look forward to ensuring that we can work together with the counties in good faith to retain access to the backcountry for all Colorado residents, not just those who can afford to own and maintain remote recreational cabins for their own private use,” Amabile said.

Clear Creek County Commissioner George Marlin testified May 4, before the measure was killed, that local governments don’t want to shut down access to backcountry huts, but that the situation was more complicated than Amabile presented it.

“In Clear Creek County, one of our neighborhoods called York Gulch has 87 homes,” he said. “Roughly 80 of those homes are not on public utilities and would be exempt under this bill. They’re absolutely asking and wanting and needing for counties to be able to have the short-term rental licensing authority that we created through long debates back home and here over years in this building.”

Boulder resident Drew Fink had suggested the legislation to Fenberg. Fink owns a remote cabin in Washington Gulch outside Crested Butte and is suing Gunnison County over the county’s recent prohibition of more than six guests at the three-bedroom, four-bath house that Fink uses as a family retreat and rents to as many as 12 visitors a night.

He is the son of Priceline co-founder Jesse Fink, who is listed as a client of lobbyists who were working in support of the legislation. Drew Fink said there is no connection between the lawsuit and the legislation.

There were “a whole lot of counties who submitted letters of opposition” in the last week, said Thomas Davidson, the executive director of the 22-member Counties and Commissioners Acting Together nonprofit.

“I would say the counties did a really good job of making their concerns known and explaining just how serious this would be to their ability to manage and regulate short-term rental activity in their jurisdictions,” he said. “I’m proud of them for taking quick action.”

Gunnison County Attorney Matthew Hoyt told The Sun he thought the legislation was about “using power and influence in Denver to overcome local control and stakeholder input on the Western Slope.”

“Gunnison County is not going to take this lying down,” he said. “We will continue to oppose such misguided legislation.”

A growing coalition of county commissioners were lining up in opposition to the legislation, saying that while they supported backcountry cabins and networks like the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, there was concern that the legislation would remove a county’s ability to regulate backcountry construction and lodging.

Pitkin County commissioners, who have been gathering public input and monitoring short-term rental activity in remote cabins since the adoption of new regulations in June 2022, this week sent a letter to Colorado lawmakers opposing the bill, saying the legislation was created “with little/no stakeholder engagement.”

“Overwhelmingly the public comments have been that the county should exclude short-term rental activity from the rural and remote zoned areas of the county,” the letter said.

The commissioners said a county prohibition on short-term rentals in the backcountry was based on the lack of emergency services, safety of renters and environmental impacts to remote backcountry areas.

Colorado Sun editor Dana Coffield contributed to this report.

Colorado Sun: The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.