Downtown Colorado Springs from the west on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

The Colorado Springs City Council unanimously imposed annual permitting fees and regulations on short-term rental property owners Tuesday after hours of protest and suggestions from dozens of residents.

The two new ordinances define short-term rentals, apply city regulations to them and charge property owners $119 a year for a permit.

Councilmen Don Knight and Dave Geislinger said their affirmative votes came with extreme reluctance.

“This is a start,” Knight said. “Some people called it a good start. I wouldn’t put that adjective on it, but it is a start.”

Short-term rentals often are advertised through Airbnb or VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) and other online sites. City officials and others estimate that the city has 1,200 to 3,000 such properties.

“We don’t know, we’re just guessing,” Council President Richard Skorman said. “We don’t know how they’re impacting neighborhoods. We don’t know how they’re impacting private property rights and businesses.”

The new ordinances will set a baseline for the burgeoning industry, said city Planning Director Peter Wysocki.

“Let’s get something in place and implemented and then, if necessary, make any changes,” Wysocki said.

But some residents expressed concern that the ordinances will legitimize businesses they see as revolving doors for miscreants and criminals, endangering neighborhoods and destroying property values.

Michael Applegate, founder of the Neighborhood Preservation Alliance, urged the council to tweak the ordinances. Only property owners who live on-site should be allowed to operate short-term rentals, he said. Otherwise, out-of-state investors buy local homes to make money at the expense of property values and quality of life in city neighborhoods.

“If they’re businesses, why are we allowing them in our residential zones?” Applegate said. “It will put gas on the bonfire that’s already happening, and investors from anywhere in the world will be able to buy up our property for their own commercial gain.”

The council did not tweak the ordinances.

Some took issue with the added financial burden,which requires operators to get a sales tax license and give the city 2 percent of each transaction.

Ceil Horowitz said the taxes and permitting fees will cut into her “meager” income.

“I can only hold onto my house in Old Colorado City because of Airbnb,” Horowitz said. “I feel (the fees are) very heavy on my back.”

Another man cautioned that overbearing regulation quashes businesses, infringes on property rights and discourages younger generations from coming to Colorado Springs.

“Home sharing has been around for hundreds of years, and what you’re doing is directly hurting a generation that’s using technology to explore new things,” he said. “You’re saying, ‘Hey millennials, we don’t like you coming here because we’re not going to give you the option for this.’”

All three arguments were echoed many times throughout the meeting.

After the public comments, council members debated whether to cap how many short-term rentals can operate in the city. Geislinger moved to impose a cap, but his motion was shot down in a 3-5 vote.

Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler said she appreciated the concerns, though many complaints of criminal activity are covered by existing laws.

She said the ordinances will allow the city to track and regulate short-term rentals but also afford some flexibility, Gaebler said.

“If there truly are things that need to be changed, the data will show that,” she said.

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