Airbnb. VRBO. HomeAway. Trivago. Short-term rentals have transformed and revolutionized where travelers stay and how they book their lodging in recent years. But short-term rentals, aka "STRs" have also disrupted the traditional lodging landscape and created an unregulated underground economy.

In response, towns and cities across the country are adopting regulations and restrictions to protect the character of neighborhoods, account for zoning, sales and excise tax revenues, address parking, traffic and noise issues, and to ensure rental units meet requirements in line with traditional lodging businesses.

The town has heard several complaints about STRs said town administrator Ken Knight. In response, the town board has been discussing whether, and if so, how, to regulate STRs. The issue will be on the July 23 agenda, and the town is accepting written comments.

The board is finding that STRs are a complex issue, since several property owners offer some sort of short-term housing --- defined by a term of less than six months. STRs also contribute to the reduction of long-term rentals and support tourism by providing lodging opportunities.

Among the cons are incompatibility with residential neighborhoods. Converting residences to STRs is causing a loss of long-term housing, increasing the number of investment properties and decreasing owner-owned properties. They are also viewed as driving up home prices. "They're creating a very transient population in a residential zone," said Knight.

There's also the issue of "leveling the playing field," since STRs are not required to meet lodging standards such as ADA accessibility and fire sprinklers.

Taxation is another consideration. While Paonia does not collect a lodging tax, said Knight, Delta County collects a 2% lodging tax and pays a portion back to the town.

Paonia resident Elaine Brett has helped visitors find lodging in the area for more than a decade. She listed numerous events, festivals, concerts, conferences, specialty schools, bike and classic car tours and other events happening year-round that draw visitors from neighboring counties, the Front Range, and around the world to the North Fork area. Most recently, in June she helped find short-term housing for some 320 people during Rural Philanthropy Days.

"Did you know that there are 10 major festivals in the North Fork Valley?" she asked. In terms of need, with a growing number of festivals, specialty schools, trainings and other events, "there is one. We need flexible lodging in the North Fork Valley and we don't have it. We don't have the means to meet the needs of all this stuff."

The town needs to consider all this and "the changing patterns" of travelers, said Brett. She urged the town not to make a "mountain out of a molehill in terms of trying to regulate the process.""

Trustee Samira Hart thanked Brett and others who provided insight and valuable information on the subject. Based on what she heard, said Hart, the town needs to do more research to ensure safety, to make the rental market fair for everyone, and to provide needed affordable short-and long-term housing. "We're booming tourism-wise," said Hart. "I'd much rather be ahead of the curve as it grows."

The board was also introduced to ordinance requiring all in-town businesses to obtain a business license. A draft ordinance was presented to trustees at the July 9 meeting. If adopted, it would be unlawful for any business, profession or occupation to operate without having registered with the town clerk. Businesses would be required to register prior to Jan. 1, and annually thereafter.

While the board has yet to establish an annual fee, all related fees, intended to cover the cost of registration processing, would be set by resolution and would be intended to cover the town's staff and other costs for registering. Daycare centers, schools and nonprofit Colorado corporations would be exempted from the fee, but would still be required to register.

I'm not a big fan of requiring businesses to register," said mayor Charles Stewart. But the town also has requirements imposed on it by other governmental entities. Knowing exactly what businesses are in town would be helpful, he said.

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