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Update: Telluride voters split on regulations for short-term rentals

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Telluride, like many of Colorado's mountain towns, is struggling to keep businesses running with major staffing shortages and low affordable housing stock. 
Photo by Sarah Howe

Update on Nov. 3, 2021

Voters in the town of Telluride have split on regulating short-term rentals (STRs) in the town as it, along with many Colorado mountain towns, are facing an unprecedented crisis for housing.

Ballot question 300

Voters turned down a citizens' initiative to put a cap on the number of short-term rentals in the town. Ballot question 300 failed with about 60 percent voting against it and about 40 percent for it. As of 9 a.m. on November 3, just over 1,200 voters cast a ballot on that issue. The question asked to limit the number of short-term rental business licenses to 400 each year, determined by an annual lottery. 

Just getting the question on the ballot was a challenge for the Telluride women who started the initiative. It faced an official protest when signatures were submitted. The protest was ultimately withdrawn before the hearing scheduled at the end of August could happen. 

In a Facebook post, the women who started the initiative wrote they are proud of the work they've done to put short-term rentals at the forefront of the housing conversation. For now, they say they are exhausted and plan to take a break while celebrating the wins their side did have with short-term rentals. You can see their full post below.

Ballot Question 2D

Part of the wins celebrated for the side hoping to regulate short-term rentals in Telluride include the passage of ballot question 2D. This question increases the fees on business licenses for short-term rentals by about double what the current rates are. That extra money will go to the town's affordable housing fund. It also puts a cap on STRs at the current number of licenses issued for the next two years. You can read more details about this question here

Questions 2A, B, and C also passed in this year's election. 2A deals with restructuring the town's lodging tax while 2B and 2C amend the Telluride Home Rule Charter.

You can find all results for San Miguel County elections here. 

Update on Sept. 23, 2021

A citizens' initiative to reduce the number of short-term rental licenses in the town of Telluride has successfully been approved to be on the November ballot. The initiative, question 300,  limits short-term rental business licenses to 400 each year, determined by an annual lottery.

The women who created this initiative have faced many hurdles, the latest being an official protest against the intiative. Telluride resident Stacy Ticsay filed the protest  last month partially on the grounds of a misleading and speculative title for the initiative. The protest argued that using an “impermissible catch phrase” — long-term rental opportunities for local residents — should invalidate the petition. However, the protest hearing scheduled for August 31 was canceled after Ticsay withdrew the protest the day before, according to the Telluride Daily Planet.

A post on the initiative's Facebook page on August 30 (see below) celebrated the protest's withdrawal. It says, in part, "We are relieved this frivolous protest is being withdrawn, of course. But we are also confused and dismayed that this protest WASTED taxpayer dollars and, quite honestly, wasted everyone's time and energy. Do you feel exhausted by it all? We certainly do. But hang in there with us...There is REAL work that needs to be done with all members of our community coming to the table, finding common ground and solutions to our housing crisis!"

Voters in Telluride will make the final decision on November 2. 

Original story below from Aug. 11, 2021. 

TELLURIDE, Colo. — A popular ski area in the winter and one of only a few Colorado towns designated as a National Historic Landmark District, the town of Telluride is home to about 2,000 people. But finding homes for those residents has come to a breaking point. 

“The amount of gentrification we’ve seen, the amount of displacement we’ve seen, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here since ’87,” said Amy Levek, the co-founder and executive director of the Trust for Community Housing, a nonprofit.

Levek has worked as an elected official in the area before, and calls her nonprofit the “evolution” of her experience. Trust for Community Housing works with various partners to increase the amount of housing available to locals.

“Mountain communities have always been desirable,” said Levek. “But it was a limited group of people who would choose to live there and that has all changed in the past year, year-and-a-half.”

She isn’t alone in that sense of change in Telluride. The housing director for the town, Melanie Wasserman, is also worried about the current situation.

“The need for housing has reached a high pitch.... the emergency siren is wailing,” Wasserman explained.

In her position, Wasserman helps run the housing programs operated and managed by Telluride. She told Rocky Mountain PBS the waitlist for units is about 160 to 170 people deep and the town only has 196 leases total.

The shortage of current affordable living spaces is affecting all areas of life in Telluride. Levek believes that it is a large contributing factor to the shortage of workers.

“Businesses have shortened their hours, closed certain days. Other restaurants are only doing takeout because they can’t find enough employees to operate their dining rooms. Retail is relying on teenagers. It’s across the board,” said Levek.

Levek also believes the pandemic has shifted the general perception people have on where and how they can live and work. She feels many people are now more willing to leave Telluride.

“Even people on the lower end of the economic spectrum have realized they have options,” said Levek. “Across the board people have realized they can make different decisions about how they live their lives.”

That shift, among other factors, has left a lot of Colorado’s beloved mountain towns in jeopardy. According to Zillow, the median home price in Telluride is now $1.1 million, an 8.4 percent increase from last year.

“We are in the most serious housing crisis that I have seen in Telluride in over 40 years,” Kathy Green, the president of a construction company and resident of Telluride, wrote in a letter to the Telluride Housing Authority Subcommittee.

The subcommittee held a special meeting Tuesday, July 27 to discuss the town’s housing crisis. While the meeting wasn't designated to make final decisions on solutions, the subcommittee brainstormed possible ways to immediately address the issue.

One possible solution discussed was allowing for more camping in the town, including relaxing current bans and finding other spaces that could provide more permanent places to camp.

Another major idea is the possibility for harsher penalties for short-term rental (STR) owners who violate their license, as well as limiting the number of licenses one company or owner can have. 

“The bulk of the comments that I have received are from people who own condos in town who aren't here all the time, they're part-time locals, and they want to be able to short-term rent them when they're not here, which makes a lot of sense,” said Mayor Pro Tem Todd Brown. “But not when they've got four or five units, and that's where it starts to get really problematic.” 

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Sarah Howe

A 2019 report from the Telluride Town Clerk’s office to the town council shows the number of STRs increasing from 382 in 2010 to 643 in 2019. This year, the Town Clerk’s office reports more than 700 licenses. 

The problem with STRs is something a few women of Telluride have taken on themselves. They created an initiative that would put a cap on the number of STR licenses within town limits at 400. They are proposing an annual lottery system as a way to distribute the licenses with some exceptions, including if someone’s primary residence is in Telluride. Because of that, the creators of the initiative believe the real number of STRS will be something close to 550 or 600. 

For Emily Scott Robinson and Lollie Lavercombe, this measure targeting STRs is an action that must be taken to save the town. 

“Building takes time and money and people who want to back it. We can’t just build our way out of this and that takes time,” said Lavercombe. “Ultimately an unregulated Short-Term Rental market is impacting our community.”

Lavercombe has experienced the affordable housing crisis and its implications first hand. She works in a restaurant in town and said they’re incredibly short-staffed. 

“We have 122 shifts available throughout the entire summer,” explained Lavercombe. “We are relying on such a small network of locals to uphold a demand that has far exceeded its capacity to support the quality of service “

Lavercombe and Scott Robinson say the impact is reaching other critical services too, like schools, health care and the fire department. They remember at least one story recently of a nurse who was offered a job at the medical center but had to turn it down because she couldn’t find housing.  

“We’ve passed the breaking point,” Scott Robinson said with conviction. “What we think will happen if there’s no control over this is that Telluride will feel more and more like a ghost town because businesses will have to close their doors because they can’t staff.”

They both understand there is some worry in the real estate community, but they believe this is a compromise and isn’t completely shutting down the STR market. 

“We cannot ask the fox to guard the hen house. We cannot necessarily ask people with direct profit from an unfettered short-term rental market to regulate themselves because the truth is they have not,” said Scott Robinson.

Their initiative has garnered enough signatures for it to begin the process of being included on the November ballot. The next step is a public comment hearing on August 24. 

Scott Robinson and Lavercombe are confident it will move forward and hope people realize some immediate action needs to be taken to address the problem. 

“Yes, this is happening and we are going to do something that protects community and investment profits,” said Lavercombe. “We have to move with actionable solutions, and a lot of other communities are stepping up and we are too.”

As far as more long-term solutions, the town of Telluride does have an advantage over other mountain towns since it has been a ski town for years. 

“Like all ski towns, housing was always hard to find,” said Lance McDonald, the program director for the town. “Even back in the late 80s. I remember looking at an old housing study that indicated the average rent for a one bedroom unit in Telluride in the early 90s was approximately $1,000 a month, which at that time was unaffordable to a lot of folks.”

McDonald is the program director for the town and has been involved with the town’s planning since the late 80s, when he moved to Telluride. He reflects back on the housing situation over the years compared to now.

“The housing in Telluride is as tight as it [has] been. Certainly we’ve seen past periods where housing has become acute, but this situation we’re in now is definitely at the high end of that scale,” said McDonald.

He explains the town has invested $65 million in construction of new housing since 2000 and plans to keep going on that track. In July, Telluride Town Council adopted a plan which guides future development on town property. It identified housing sites for approximately 450 to 600 housing units that could be pursued during the next 10 to 20 years. 

Currently, the town has two—soon to be three—housing projects in the design phase, but officials have yet to decide if those will be deed-restricted or not.

There are also other issues at play and will present problems in the future, like the cost of land and building in the area. Similar to other mountain towns Rocky Mountain PBS has covered recently, the motivation for a developer to build affordable housing in Telluride is low. The cost is too high and the reward isn’t worth it for many private companies.

So Levek, like others, believe the federal and state governments need to provide more support. But in the end, she thinks the only way out of this crisis is if everyone starts paying attention and acting.

“I think there’s a role for philanthropy, there’s a role for private developers as well as the government,” Levek said. “I think we need to figure out how we can all work together on it.”

Amanda Horvath is a multimedia producer with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at

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