We need to determine the threshold

In the past three years, the amount of short term rentals in the Saratoga area have grown from less than 25 to more than 70. In fact, they are now nearly 8% of the total housing in Saratoga.

For the past year, the Saratoga Planning Commission has discussed short term rentals, whether they should be regulated and how they should be regulated. That discussion culminated in a special use permit for short term rentals, which was ultimately tabled last month.

The tabling of the permit came following input from the Town of Saratoga’s legal counsel, Kylie Waldrip, who said the Town of Jackson was potentially facing legal challenges to their most recent short term rental ordinance. Additionally, Mayor Chuck Davis—who also serves on the planning commission—said he would encourage the rest of the town council to follow Waldrip’s legal advice if the commission were to recommend approval of the permit. It was made clear during the October meeting of the planning commission that one of the primary directives given to Waldrip was to keep the Town of Saratoga out of any legal trouble.

With that directive, and with the legal battles forming in the Mountain West regarding short term rental ordinances, we at the Saratoga Sun can appreciate and understand why Waldrip would make such a recommendation. We also understand why the mayor and the town council would follow her advice. Neither the council, the Town’s legal counsel nor the planning commission have an easy job. All of that being said, the Sun does not believe tabling the permit to wait for either case law or legislation should prevent any work being done on this issue. There is little reason to think the number of short term rentals won’t continue to grow unchecked, especially as the popularity of the Platte Valley grows.

One of Saratoga’s driving economic factors is tourism. It’s been called the second biggest industry in Wyoming and, whether summer or winter, it can be easy to see why when living here in the Platte Valley. Tourism depends heavily on the service industry and that industry needs employees and those employees need a place to live.

The planning commission has tied the lack of workforce housing, in part, to the lack of regulations surrounding short term rentals. We have been seeing, and continue to see, what a lack of workforce housing will get our community. The Hotel Wolf, which has always been closed on Sundays, has had to add yet another closure day to its schedule. The Saratoga Sandwich Company, which was open seven days a week when it first started, has had to schedule closure days. That’s not including unscheduled closures of such businesses, also due to lack of staffing.

To be clear, we are not saying that short term rentals don’t have their part to play in our community and our economy. They obviously do, otherwise we wouldn’t have seen the number of them increase from 25 to 71 in just three years. As has been stated by McCall Burau, chairman of the planning commission, there should be a balance between the number of beds for tourists compared to the number of beds for the workforce.

This begs the primary question: what is Saratoga’s threshold for short term rentals?

We believe that this question is one that could, and should, be answered by the community itself. Any guidance from either a court case or legislation would likely only determine that a municipality has the authority to regulate short term rentals while leaving the finer details to the local government.

To find the answer to this question on short term rental thresholds, we would encourage the Saratoga Town Council to form a committee. This committee would be best served if it were to include a planning commission member, a town council member, the owner or manager of a hotel, the owner of a short term rental and an at-large position held by a local resident.

While we can agree with the sentiment of Waldrip that a larger municipality is better equipped for legal battles surrounding short term rental ordinances, we believe that it is imperative we must find the answers that would work for our community.

 

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