Airbnbs cause stir in Centennial

By Daniel Bendtsen

Laramie Boomerang

Via Wyoming News Exchange

LARAMIE — Some residents from Centennial are pushing Albany County officials to regulate Airbnbs in the town after complaining they’ve become a nuisance.

Centennial residents came to the Albany County planning board at the beginning of September to complain that, too often, tourists staying at houses in Centennial are loud and obnoxious.

The proliferation of Airbnb and other short-term rentals, they argued, runs counter to the spirit of “residential” zoning, which such Airbnbs are housed in.

Residents from the North Fork subdivision, which consists of 91 properties, have been most vocal in their concerns.

Under the county’s zoning rules, property zoned as residential must receive a conditional use permit to operate a Bed and Breakfast. Hotels and motels are prohibited on residential property.

After hearing those complaints, Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent agreed to work with members of the county planning office to study what regulations other communities in the U.S. have used to mitigate Airbnb conflicts. Trent said she’ll try to report back to the planning board by November.

However, the planning board's members made no promises they’ll enact such regulations, but they at least expressed interest in learning what options might exist.

“I think right now we’re in an information gathering phase,” said Shaun Moore, who chairs the county’s planning board.

John Spiegelberg, who sits on the planning board, expressed hesitance about regulating Airbnbs.

“I don’t think we’re here to legislate,” he said. “You can regulate as much as you want, but it comes down to enforcement. (The sheriff’s office) is spread as thin as it gets and they do a terrific job.”

Numerous major cities in the U.S. have strict regulations on Airbnbs, often limiting the number of renters or the number of days in a year a property can be rented out.

More municipalities in Colorado have been pursuing Airbnb regulations this year after more than 2 million visitors to Wyoming’s southern neighbor used the website in 2018 to rent property, according to the Denver Post.

In Denver, like many other cities, residents are only allowed to have short-term rentals for their primary residences. Ownership of property for sole use of Airbnb rentals is banned. This month, the city’s district attorney has even begun prosecuting Airbnb hosts in violation of city rules.

On Tuesday, the city council of Colorado Springs took its first votes in enacting its own regulations for Airbnb vendors.

Dick Clifton, who lives on North Fork Road, told Albany County’s planning board that the Airbnb issue has been “simmering” in Centennial for a while.

“This kind of snuck up on us as a community,” he said. “In recent years, Vrbo and Airbnb proprietors have been purchasing properties with the intent of operating their commercial business.”

Most of those short-term rental properties in North Fork, Clifton said, are owned by out-of-staters who are harder to complain to about their tenants.

Clifton said many snowmobilers and other recreationists who rent out Airbnbs in Centennial often subject residents to drunken debauchery.

“We have trespassers, speeders and lots of increased traffic,” Clifton said. “There appears to be a mental shift in normally respectful people when they go out on vacation. Absentee owners provide very little oversight and they pass that responsibility onto the neighborhood.”

Clifton said Centennial’s remoteness also makes it difficult for the Albany County Sheriff’s Office to respond to complaints in a timely manner.

 The conditional use permits required for Bed and Breakfasts, he said, could be one solution for Airbnb complaints.

“A lot of us would just like to prohibit (short-term rentals), but that’s not pragmatic,” Clifton said.

He said he expects it to become an increasing problem in the North Fork area as aging residents sell their homes.

Ken Costello, who has a cabin in the North Fork subdivision, said the Centennial area attracts a particularly rowdy group of visitors.

“Out there, you’re attracting predominantly snowmobilers and four-wheelers,” he said. “They pack as many people as they can into a house and they go out in the morning, sometimes in a roar of noise, and then they come back and party in the evening. Our residential area has been turned into somewhat of a hotel district.”

Costello also said Airbnbs unfairly compete “head-to-head” with local hotels while not having to conform to the same safety regulations of a hotel.

Jan Alvaney, who uses her North Fork Road home as an Airbnb, said the characterizations of her tenants doesn’t reflect reality.

“Most of the people who stay at my Airbnb and the one across the street from me are families who are coming out here to ski,” she said.

Alvaney said the Airbnbs play a constructive role for Wyoming’s economy, noting that she remitted $4,000 in occupancy taxes last year.

“We bring people to our community to use the facilities in our communities, like the general stores and the restaurants,” she said. “These people are not all as they’ve been portrayed to be. People visiting Centennial ski, camp and fish. If we don’t have a place for them to stay overnight, they’re not going to bring their revenue to Albany County.”