More than 65 people packed into the South Fork Fire Hall on Tuesday night to share their feelings on short-term rental regulations, with seemingly every position on the issue represented.
The meeting was the second of five the county is hosting to gauge public desire as to how the planning and zoning department should move forward on the issue and to provide the public an array of options for how it would do that.
Joy Hill, Park County planning and zoning director, said her department has received complaints of nuisances, parking issues, trespassing and septic concerns that members of the public have expressed about short-term rental clients.
Of the 16 people who spoke at the meeting, there was a mix of three main camps. There were those supporting no regulation, those looking for some guidelines and people wanting full regulation.
“I do not support regulations of any kind,” Mike Bromley said. “Our Park County government doesn’t need to be in the middle of the county housing authority business.”
Bromley argued to an applause, that it would be hypocritical for the county to enforce regulations when it doesn’t have a building code, and that the sheriff’s office should be able to enforce any problems that exist with lodgings.
Many expressed a desire to avoid regulations, but admitted the need for some guidelines.
“How do you maintain the peace when one bad egg is ruining it for others?” asked Janet Kempner, a short-term rental owner.
Rick Tillery, another short-term rental owner, suggested transferable licensing, guidelines for considering complaints and a defined process for new short-term rental owners to come into compliance, as ways to reduce red tape as much as possible.
One aspect that everyone seemed to agree on is that short-term rentals will only become a larger issue in the coming years. In Park County there are 112 advertised short-term rentals through Airbnb and Vrbo outside of city limits and possibly dozens more that operate as their own servicer.
“Can you imagine in five years what that number will be? Ray Leach questioned. “Regulations do work, guidelines don’t.”
Alan Rosenbaum, a former Jackson resident who now lives on the South Fork, spoke on how short-term rentals have overwhelmed his former community.
“It made me sick,” he said of a recent visit he took there, filled with traffic congestion from Teton Village to Jackson. “If you’re not careful this highway is going to look like the North Fork.”
Rosenbaum said the county should institute a fine schedule for coming into compliance, an idea that brought applause from the audience.
A handful of short-term rental owners spoke out to say their businesses are self-regulated because of the rating and review systems built into Airbnb and Vrbo that attract or detract future customers.
“Everything you do there is highly rated,” Boone Tidwell said. “There is no way you can operate badly, no one will rent from you. It pretty much regulates itself.”
However, guests could have a wonderful time and say as much in a review but still upset the neighbors.
Melinda Hall spoke on her negative experiences living next to a short-term rental.
“People were looking in my yard as if it were a park,” she said. “It was 11 p.m. at night and 12-15 adults were out on the back deck making tons of noise. They’re on vacation so they don’t care.”
She said short-term rentals on properties of 1-acre or less need to be heavily regulated.
Dennis Bakke, a resident of the Lower South Fork, spoke of a business in his neighborhood that is flouting the local homeowners association covenants by running their short-term rental, which the covenants prohibit. He wants to ensure future permit applications don’t allow people to flout HOA rules through the county.
“It’s no different than a bartender checking ID’s,” Bakke said.
Constituents from around the whole county were in attendance. Although most were from the South Fork, short-term rental issues were also brought up from Cody, Crandall and the North Fork.
The North Fork makes up the largest conglomerate of short-term rentals outside Cody and Powell city limits with at least 40 businesses the county is aware of. Green Creek Road is a particular hotspot for this activity.
“Green Creek now has gotten the name, ‘the South Fork of the North Fork,’” Wapiti resident Frank Alvarado said. “I know because I pick people up there for tours.”
Among suggested guidelines and regulations discussed, the need for guest occupancy caps based off size of septic, property and proximity to neighbors took precedence.
“There needs to be some guidelines for toilets,” Renee Tafoya said. “Perhaps the number of rooms could be a guideline.”
Mike McCue said he believes the biggest problems occur with short-term rentals when the owners are not staying onsite with guests. He said different size of properties and septic systems should face different regulations that will decide how many people can stay at a residence.
But Tom Caudle said his rental is already regulated as to how many people can stay based off how many beds he offers. He said even if he were to cram his property with beds it still wouldn’t pay off because he then would likely get bad reviews.
“I would get horrible reviews,” Caudle said. “I meet everyone who comes. Our guests are staying with our family there. If they come, we know who they are and we tell them exactly where they can and can’t go. That’s just part of the self-regulating.”
Many like Caudle spoke on the virtues that short-term rentals provide the county economy. These businesses are required to contribute to the lodging tax with every booking they get.
“It is changing the way we travel,” said Sandi Fisher, an Airbnb owner in Powell. “I’m hoping we can embrace it.”
County staff made no inclination as to how they will move forward on the issue and were simply present to take notes and moderate the meeting. P&Z staff, planning and zoning commission members and county commissioners will review notes from the public meetings and will decide how to move forward when all public meetings are completed.
“We could do nothing or we could do something,” Hill said.
Drawing some ire from the audience was a sample application document provided by the county listing potential regulations that could occur. Many in the room criticized this document as proposed or planned changes.
“We just wanted to put stuff out there to stimulate conversation,” Hill said.
The county held its first meeting on the issue Aug. 22 in Powell with about 35 people in attendance. There are three more remaining meetings left for people to share their thoughts.
• Thursday, 5-6:30 p.m. at the Park County EOC, basement of the new courthouse, 1002 Sheridan Ave., Cody.
• Sept. 5, 5-6:30 p.m. at the Wapiti School Gym, 3167 Northfork Highway.
• Sept. 10, 5-6:30 p.m. at the Clark Fire Hall, 50 Granite Ridge Rd.