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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Springdale puts the brakes on new short-term rentals

A quiet street runs through a small town against a backdrop of red rock mesas. A sign advertises a campground and RV park and a hotel.
Fabio Achilli
Springdale is the latest tourism destination in southwest Utah to enact a moratorium on short-term rentals. The Washington County Commission temporarily banned these rentals last year in unincorporated areas.

As Springdale grappled with an increase of new and converted short-term rentals, town leaders temporarily banned all new transient lodging applications at the beginning of 2022.

“We're seeing a lot of places that were previously retail … converted to nightly rentals,” Springdale Mayor Barbara Bruno said. “We've had a lot of national park [workers] or employees of businesses in the town having to move out of their long-term rentals because they're being converted to short-term rentals.”

Sara Jane Teal works for a local guide company and has lived in Springdale since 2019. Her lease ends in April and she doesn’t have the option to re-sign. She said the building is changing ownership and there’s a chance it could become a short-term rental.

Teal said it’s sad to see local people and businesses displaced because of tourist lodging.

“At what point are you like, we need to help our locals out because they're here making all of this run, or are we going to choose all these visitors?” she said. “I feel frustrated because sometimes it feels easier to overlook the people that are working really hard to keep [the integrity of] Springdale, Rockville and Virgin.”

Teal is looking elsewhere for housing and may end up somewhere “down the hill” in the Hurricane and LaVerkin area. That would mean she’d have to spend more time and money commuting to work.

“I would love to stay in Springdale just because my job's there,” she said. “It's wonderful and I feel very privileged to get to wake up and walk three minutes to my place of work.”

When Emily Moran began looking for a place to live near Zion, she was told to expect to live as far as an hour and a half away from the park. Moran is moving from Massachusetts to start work as an archivist at the Great Basin Institute at the park. She said she took a pay cut accepting the job and was surprised it wasn’t cheaper to live in a more rural area.

Moran and her partner were able to find a place in Washington — just under an hour commute.

“If it was for the sake of the park and the people living there full time and have had family living in the area, if it was to protect them, then I feel okay with it,” Moran said. “If it's because people are buying up housing and pricing people out and it's unaffordable, then I feel upset about that.”

As part of the transient lodging moratorium, a taskforce of elected leaders, residents and business owners was formed to come up with recommendations to address the issue. Bruno, who’s part of the group, said they’re trying to strike a balance between property rights of landowners and preserving quality of life for residents.

She said they’re also thinking about the visitors that come to the area — over 5 million people visited Zion last year. Bruno said tourists that stay in Springdale are better for the town.

“The ideal visitor is one that comes and stays in a hotel or a legal nightly rental here in town,” she said. “[This kind of visitor] parks their car and rides a shuttle into the park and patronizes our businesses and maybe rides a bike and doesn't drive a private vehicle around.”

Other elected leaders in the area are dealing with the same issue. Last year unincorporated parts of Washington County enacted a similar moratorium on short-term rentals. The county commission passed an ordinance limiting the size of these rentals and requiring them to be owner-occupied.

The moratorium in Springdale is in effect until mid-July.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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