Proposed Boulder County regulation threatens region’s generations-long vacation rental tradition

Regulations to short-term rental oversight in unincorporated Boulder County threaten to negatively impact property owners, vacationers and the local economy


BOULDER, Colo., Nov. 20, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A group of homeowners in unincorporated Boulder are raising concerns about proposed changes to Article 4 of the Boulder County Land Use Code and a proposed licensing ordinance to regulate short-term dwelling rentals and bed-and-breakfast uses, arguing the changes are unnecessary and threaten to destroy a decades-long tradition of tourism in the area. 

Specifically, homeowners are concerned that the recitals to the proposed ordinance suggest that the County has decided that short-term rentals are harmful to the community and that the new regulations are too complicated, too harsh and could have a crippling effect on the area’s long-standing tradition of vacation rentals. Further, the loss of economic tourism spending could negatively impact the entire county — something a pandemic-weary economy can ill afford. 

The proposed ordinance states that the County has determined that “short-term rental of residential property creates adverse impacts to the health, safety and welfare” of the community and depletes residential housing opportunities, and the rules do much to shut down rental of many properties in unincorporated Boulder County — some of which have been popular rental destinations for decades. For example, the rules impose a bevy of fees, preconditions and time-consuming and expensive licensure requirements that many historic rental properties, whether because of lot size or age, cannot meet.  In addition, the proposed rules ban all wedding activity by rental guests occurring on residential property, impose an eight-person maximum occupancy regardless of the size of the property and put onerous requirements on properties being rented more than 60 days per year. 

“As we all struggle through the pandemic, vacation and short-term rental usage is up in our county’s remote areas because individuals and families can come hike, bike or sightsee and feel comfortable doing outdoor activities while maintaining a safe distance from others,” said Rosemary Donahue, longtime Allenspark resident and rental property owner. “Plus, visitors do more than rent a place to stay — they dine out, visit local attractions, purchase items to take home and more, extending the negative economic impact to cities like Boulder and Longmont. These changes are not addressing actual community needs or issues.”

Other aspects of proposed rules include:

  • The Special Review public hearing process to become eligible to request a license, coupled with all the various inspections and permits, could take up to a year, meaning some homeowners that rely on rental income could be denied an entire season of rental income in order to comply with the new requirements. 
  • The rules impose fines of up to $1,000 per violation per day for perceived offenses, which could include a simple noise complaint, incorrect guest instructions or hosting a small family wedding ceremony. 
  • Only one license is permitted per individual and affiliates (e.g., family or small business), which means those owning more than one rental property could not qualify for more than one license. This would even cover single properties with two dwellings — for example, a house and a cabin — as a license would be required for each dwelling.

The proposed ordinance imposes a “one-size-fits-all” approach for all of unincorporated Boulder County, where the public might expect to see different rules and requirements for an isolated mountain cabin versus for a single-family home in a dense subdivision. 

“The proposed ordinance speaks of preserving the ‘character’ of these residential neighborhoods — troubling language that is often used in housing regulations to subtly discriminate. As longtime residents and rental property owners, I can tell you that welcoming visitors to enjoy the beauty of Boulder County and Colorado is an important part of our character that should be preserved and celebrated, not regulated away,” Donahue added, while also noting that the “character” of her neighborhood in Allenspark is synonymous with seasonal vacation rental.

Economic Benefits of Tourism

Tourism is a critical element of the county’s economy, and the proposed changes are unnecessary limits on that income during a historically challenging time. The COVID-19 pandemic has already decimated Colorado’s tourism industry, with the U.S. Travel Association estimating that Colorado traveler spending has declined by 89% from the prior year. This group believes if these new regulations are implemented, everyone from local business owners and restauranteurs to community residents working as cleaning staff, handymen and women and more will feel further devastation from these new, unnecessary and overly harsh restrictions. 

The history of vacation rental activity in the mountains of Boulder County goes back many generations and is tied intrinsically with proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park. More than 4 million tourists visit the park annually, and most visitors are travelers who require lodging. Even cities like Boulder and Longmont could face negative consequences as visitors to unincorporated Boulder County frequently “come into town” for local attractions, dining, groceries and more. 

The Boulder County Board of County Commissioners is set to hold a virtual public hearing on the final adoption of DC-19-0005: Lodging Uses - Short-Term Dwelling Rentals and Bed and Breakfast on Dec. 3, 2020. Public testimony will be taken at the hearing. Information on how to attend or speak at the hearing will be posted on the county’s website before the hearing. 

For more information regarding the proposed Boulder County Land Use Code text amendments related to Lodging Uses - Short-Term Dwelling Rentals and Bed and Breakfast, please visit



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