Vacationers, owners, developers weigh in on VRBOs

Leslie Silverman

Brianne McKelley vacationed with her family in Hill City in early May.
McKelley chose to stay in a nightly vacation rental in Sunset Creek. McKelley has three kids and on this particular trip to Hill City she traveled along with her mother-in-law as well her husband.
“There were six of us,” she said. “We never travel with less than that amount.”
McKelley and her family live in San Diego, Calif. She considers herself a “big camper.” Her family also owns a motorhome.
“But if we’re going to go on vacation, we will go to a vacation rental house,” she said flatly. “There’s more room for my little kids to play. It’s also easier to cook with little ones around then to go to restaurants for all our meals.”
McKelley also likes the homey feel of a nightly rental.
“It feels more relaxed,” she said.
Since she’s considering a move to the Black Hills, she also wanted to stay in a neighborhood rental “to live like a local.”
 And although she comes from an area, San Diego, which by her own words, “got out of hand in terms of Airbnb” and nightly rentals, she still thinks that nightly vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods are important to have. She describes her nightly rental in Sunset Creek as “a great centrally located place to have an Airbnb type of residence.” She felt at ease with her children playing in the neighborhood and enjoyed getting to know the neighbors who live there year-round.
In terms of what she’s looking for in a neighborhood to live in if she does move to the Hills, she does admit she wants balance but adds that she would rather live next to an Airbnb then a regular neighbor she might not get along with.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” she said.  “And then you’re stuck with living next to somebody for an indefinite period of time.  At least with an Airbnb if you don’t like them they leave after a week.”
McKelley said the owner of the Sunset Creek nightly rental she stayed in made it clear that there were certain rules her family had to follow during their stay. She was aware, for example, of the HOA in the neighborhood.
“We are a respectful family,” McKelley said. “We respected those rules.”
Adam and Lacey Bodensteiner are nightly vacation rental owners in Hill City. The couple recently rezoned their modern on main house to commercial zoning, out of fear of what a total ban of nightly vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods might do to their new investment property. The Bodensteiners bought the lot that formerly had an older mobile home on it admittingly as an investment to build a nightly vacation rental on, although the two did crunch the numbers.  
“If we built this house as a spec house,” Adam said, “It would not have been affordable housing.”
The trailered lot ironically  was priced at what some might consider an affordable housing level, yet was on the market for over three months until the Bodensteiners purchased it.
Walking into the property the Bodensteiners’ contact information is clearly posted. In fact it could be seen through the window prior to walking inside.
They go above and beyond what the city requires for nightly vacation rentals adhering to the more stringent county rules. They also make sure that they are available 24/7 not only for their guests but for neighbors who might have complaints.
Lacey tells the story about one rental family that was extra loud. She immediately fielded  the complaint, personally speaking with neighboring homes and the renters.
“We want to do what’s good for the community,” Lacey said. “We want to be good neighbors.”
The two say owning a nightly vacation rental is hard work.
”It’s a full time job. It just happens to be our second full time job,” Adam said only half-jokingly. The couple is serious, though, on why they think a total ban on nightly vacation rental homes in residential neighborhoods is a scary idea.
“If you like VRBOs you’re going to stay in a VRBO,” Lacey said. They think that if they are banned in Hill City VRBO families will opt to spend the night in Custer or Keystone or in county offerings, economically impacting Hill City.
Like the McKelley family, the Bodensteiners also travel with extended family and their children and cramming into a hotel room is not an option. They have also visited towns that, like San Diego, are overrun with too many vacation rentals. The Bodensteiners are in support of the current ordinance and wonder why it’s not being given a chance to play out.
“It would just be nice to see what happens with the current ordinance,” Lacey said. “The city was proactive. It did its due diligence. It did a great job of addressing the issues with public meetings. “
The Bodensteiners have lived in the Black Hills their entire lives. They understand the “growing pains” of Hill City and they deeply value a sense of community.
“We want to raise our kids here. We want families visiting here year round, with year round restaurants,” Lacey said, understanding that lack of employees might hinder that. They make it clear that while they understand the concerns of the other side, the side in favor of the ban, they don’t feel this is the solution to the issues.
And neither does Vic Alexander, who owns both hotels and nightly vacation rentals in town.  Alexander doesn’t like the current ordinance nor the proposed initiated measure to ban all nightly vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods.
In his opinion, doing nothing, the market will take care of itself.
Alexander serves on the Economic Development Council and has since its inception. He cites Bull Run as an example of a market playing out not exactly as most people had expected, but as the natural market dictates.
“Bull Run was developed as an affordable housing project that would allow people such as teachers, Hill City government employees or the like to afford a home in Hill City. But reality is that Bull Run didn’t attract the people it was built for, it attracted snowbirds ... people who can afford to have a home somewhere warm during the winter and a summer home in another location,” he said.
Alexander points out “there are no more workers there now than when we started.” The prices of homes in Bull Run went up because of market conditions, not because of vacation rentals, which Bull Run does not allow.
“Banning vacation rental homes won’t solve the problem,” Alexander said. It won’t bring down current housing costs, he said, which are dictated in his opinion by “market variables beyond the scope of this scenario.”
What Alexander does see, however, is that by banning vacation rental homes some income to the city will be “whittled off” because people who stay in vacation rental homes not only buy groceries and gas in town but they also employ service workers such as housekeepers who also tend to buy groceries and gas in town.
Alexander knows that vacation homes have been part of the fabric of the Black Hills since before he was born.
“We are not going to change the dynamics of who can own property in Hill City by banning vacation homes,” he said.
Chase Larsen owns cabins outside of Hill City limits. His Freedom Ridge property has seen an influx of people due to COVID-19 who want to travel but also want their own space to do the things that they like to do.
“They don’t necessarily want to stay in a hotel surrounded by other people,” he said.
And although his establishment is located outside of Hill City limits, he really sees no reason that there should be a ban or even a limit on nightly vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods.
“I have a hard time telling people who want to exercise their right to start a business or make some cash on the side what to do as long as they’re paying taxes and it’s a level playing field,” he said.
Larsen also notes that large families get more for their money when they rent out a cabin or VRBO.
“It’s more economical for a large family or group not only because they can cook but also because they don’t have to get two or three hotel rooms,” he said.
Marcia Benning has several nightly vacation and long-term rentals all zoned in commercial areas around the region. Like Larsen, she also feels that the proposed initiated measure ordinance banning all nightly vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods of Hill City ignores the national effects of the last three years.
“I would like to remind voters that the surge of newcomers to Hill City and our state was driven by want of freedom from bans and mandates and a friendly posture toward free enterprise,” she said.

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