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Mountain News: Town has no say on short-term rentals

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KETCHUM, Idaho — Up and down the Rocky Mountains, town officials are trying to figure out what exactly to do about the proliferating short-term rentals in residential neighbourhoods conducted through websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway.

In Ketchum, they can't do anything about it. The Idaho Mountain Express explained that state legislators earlier this year made it illegal for local governments to regulate short-term rentals aside from health, safety and welfare issues.

Before that, a graduate student from Arizona State University had been hired to dive deep into studying what is happening in Ketchum. Genevieve Pearthree's year-long research confirmed what had been anecdotally observed: the number of long-term rentals declined precipitously. For example, from 2012 to 2016, studio apartments available for rent declined from 38 to just four. She also found that half of the short-term rentals were in areas where city zoning prohibited them. Ketchum had never enforced those restrictions — and now, because of the new state law, it cannot.

One property owner who had long-term rentals from 1979 to 2013 said short-term rentals are better. The old-timer cited at least one case of a renter trashing the unit. "I'm glad that the state legislature tied your hands," William Glenn told Ketchum council members. "I have no obligation to provide affordable housing."

But a new resident of Ketchum, fresh from San Francisco, had a different viewpoint. Ed Johnson was able to rent a place only with a commitment of paying a year's rent in advance. "That's not reasonable," said the newcomer.

It's an issue of equity in Canmore, located at the eastern entrance to Banff National Park. A municipal staffer told the council there residential neighbourhoods were not designed for visitor accommodations. "People have concerns over noise, security and property values." Too, hoteliers pay higher taxation rates than people who rent out spare bedrooms.

Andrew Shepherd, who manages the Blackstone Lodge in Canmore, said it goes beyond simple tax rates. "From smoke detectors to fire escape routes, hot tub and pool maintenance, to laundry detergent and water temperatures — hotels are regulated in ways that Internet rentals are not. According to an account in the Rocky Mountain Outlook, he also pointed out that lodges contribute to promotion of tourism — what helps fill the rooms rented through the websites.

Some rentals have always occurred illegally in residential districts, observed Canmore Mayor John Borrowman, who worried about "having our residential neighbourhoods slowly turn into hotel districts."

Canmore plans to educate, and if necessary, enforce residential homeowners about overstepping their rental rights.

In Colorado, Crested Butte will ask town residents to approve a five-per-cent tax on short-term rentals. If this goes forward in November, it would result in a total of 18.5 per cent in taxes on lodging and would generate $250,000 for affordable housing efforts.

As in Canmore, the issue in Crested Butte is one of equity.

"I see the homeowners using a residence as a business but not paying the much higher commercial property tax rate on the structure," said Mayor Glenn Michel, according to the Crested Butte News account. "They don't pay the same property tax rate as a lodge. I think it helps balance that out a bit."

Also in Colorado, Durango city officials are ensuring they get their municipal mitts on tax proceeds of this proliferating Internet-based economy. A new deal with rental website Airbnb ensures collection of a three-per-cent lodger's tax that is expected to produce $74,000 a year for city coffers, the Durango Telegraph reported.

In this new agreement, Durango joins 300 other jurisdictions around the world that have partnered with Airbnb on tax collections.

But Durango city officials have decided against adding another tax on the sale of marijuana. Sales are already taxed by state and local taxes at a rate of 20 per cent. Aspen, meanwhile, is continuing to evaluate whether to impose another tax on tobacco.

Preparing for crowd like no other

JACKSON, Wyo. — One day four or five years ago, Bob McLaurin got a phone call from a university professor.

McLaurin, who is the town manager of Jackson in the valley commonly called Jackson Hole, has talked with college professors occasionally through his career studying the nature of mountain

resort towns. He was, for example, the town manager in Vail during one of its days of glory, when the World Championships were held there in 1999 as well as a year earlier, when a ski lodge burned, attracting the world's attention.

The college professor this time told McLaurin about an event that would make Jackson unusual: It was to be in the path of the total eclipse of the sun on Aug. 21, 2017. It would, the professor said, fill the town.

"I said, 'Look partner, the place is already full on the 21 of August.'"

Just how much fuller it can become will be known next Monday. McLaurin and local officials have been planning for about a year now, even hiring an expert from Australia who has helped other sites within solar eclipses to prepare for the crowds. But at the end of the day, nobody really knows for sure how many people will show up.

Teton County, which is largely the same as Jackson Hole, has a permanent population of 23,000. Being "full" ordinarily means another 50,000 people staying in hotels, campgrounds and so forth. That puts Jackson and adjoining areas at roughly 75,000 for the biggest days of the year. The eclipse could double it.

"But nobody really knows for sure," said McLaurin. "We don't know whether (the town) will be locked up (in congestion) or it will be just like a good July 4 crowd."

Jackson has hired extra people, and nobody has the day off. Will they all be needed?

"It may be a non-event, but at the end of the day I'd rather plan for a huge big deal and have it turn out to be nothing rather than have the place go ape-shit crazy," said McLaurin.

Dwight Reppa and his wife, Bobbie, have been preparing for the place to go ape-shit crazy, too. They own the only sewage-handling business in Jackson. "We've never dealt with something like this. This is a new thing," he told the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Reppa is bringing in 200 portable toilets from Salt Lake City in addition to the 450 or so that he already has scattered around the valley at construction sites and on hand for special events. Among those getting the portable toilets is Grand Teton National Park, which expects the busiest day in the history of the park.

Reppa said he expects to make money from the big day in the shade. "But it's not like I'm going to retire after this."

And Ketchum waiting for biggest day ever

STANLEY, Idaho — "Expect congestion," said the chamber of commerce website for Stanley, a town of 63 people located along Idaho's Salmon River. "Expect delays."

Stanley will have a total eclipse of two minutes, 13 seconds on Aug. 21, assuming the sky there is bereft of both clouds and smoke. It's the first time for a total eclipse there since 1687.

An hour to the south, Ketchum and Sun Valley expect several days of congestion. The total eclipse there will be a little over a minute.

The Idaho Mountain Express reported that greatamericaneclipse.com predicts 93,000 to 370,000 visitors to Idaho to see the eclipse.

In Ketchum, a consultant advised city officials to assume the community's best-attended event of the year, then double it. That best-attended event is 17,000 visitors, for Wagon Days, a celebration of Ketchum's pre-skiing, pre-Hemingway career as a mining and sheep-herding centre.

Short-term rentals in the Ketchum area are being listed for $400 to $650 per night. High-end lodging can fetch $1,500 per night.

Federal land officials worry about people driving onto meadows whose grasses have dried out, creating a tinder that can catch fire when coming into contact with the hot metal of internal combustion engines. And if there's fire, can people escape if highways are clogged?

"It's kind of like Y2K planning," said Bart Lassman, chief of Wood River Fire and Rescue. "You plan for the worst."

Y2K came when the 20th century tripped into the 21st century, with much worry about havoc created by the coding of computerized systems. The worries were mostly for naught. Few computers failed.

More lives claimed by red, rugged, and rotten range

ASPEN, Colo. – "Red, rugged and rotten" is how one climbing guide published several decades ago described the Elk Range. That definitely fits the Maroon Bells, arguably Colorado's most picturesque mountains and, as a Forest Service sign at their base warns, deadly.

Need for that warning was reinforced recently when a 57-year-old woman fell to her death on North Maroon, one of twin peaks with ruddy, striated faces, both above 4,270 metres. A death had occurred on the ridge between the two mountains earlier this summer.

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