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Vacation rentals fight is on

Moratorium gets rejected

The battle lines over vacation rentals have been drawn.

The Durango City Council decided Monday not to approve an emergency moratorium on new vacation rentals applications and land uses, while residents promised they would move quickly to file an affidavit for a referendum and initiative.

City Attorney Dirk Nelson recommended the moratorium to allow the city time to decide how to respond to push by residents for a citywide vote on the new regulations and a proposed ordinance that would keep the current code the same. The vote for a moratorium failed 3-2, with Councilors Dean Brookie, Keith Brant and Christina Rinderle voting against.

“If I had to bet, I would bet it would be both a referendum and an initiative,” resident Joe Gambone said. “It was a very arrogant vote (by the council).”

A referendum is a proposal to the council to repeal the law, which suspends the law pending the referendum vote. If the council rejects it, the proposal can go to a public vote.

The new rules are scheduled to take effect July 1. However, the old rules are repealed at the same time, potentially leaving no code in place until the outcome of the referendum.

An affidavit to start the referendum process must be filed with the city clerk within 30 days of the final ordinance approval, which was Monday. It was approved by council unanimously.

“I don’t get what we’re accomplishing by doing (the moratorium),” Brant said. “You can’t, under the new code anyway because you can’t get done in two weeks.”

An initiative allows residents to write their own ordinance and give it to the City Council for consideration, and it can be voted on by the public if it’s denied. Residents can pursue both options simultaneously.

Current code requires a 500-foot separation between vacation rental units. The new code, which is part of the new Land Use and Development Code, caps vacation rentals at 5 percent in the two established neighborhoods – one in the downtown area and the other along West Second and West Third avenues – with up to two rentals per street segment. It would allow as many as 35 in the downtown neighborhood and 28 on the avenues.

The second rental would have to obtain a conditional-use permit. Residents who would apply for a second vacation rental on their street segment must be the primary residents of the property and use the vacation rental part-time. The street segment must have five or more homes facing the street.

Vacation rentals could be next to each other in mixed-use residential buildings if the applicant shows he or she has distributed local contact information for the vacation rental to all unit owners and tenants in the building.

Councilor Dick White and Mayor Sweetie Marbury argued for the moratorium, with White saying it would allow “the dust to settle,” and other parts of the land-use development code that take effect July 1 would give the city enforcement authority to shut down illegal vacation rentals.

“The moratorium would give both sides an opportunity to see where there’s some common ground,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc said. “Once the ordinance is suspended, there’s nothing to enforce.”

Rinderle said the council worked with the public for a long time to reach a compromise that has great enforcement policy.

“We worked really hard to establish that,” she said. “I’d like to see that approved July 1 and move forward as a community with that. If citizens want to take other steps to create a referendum and suspend that or want to create an initiative, that is their prerogative.”

Resident Andrew Aiken said he’s not concerned that a referendum will leave no code to enforce.

“We’re not losing anything,” he said. “We’re losing nothing.”

In other business, the council gave final approval to new medical and recreational marijuana regulations.


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