New Routt County camping regulations allow up to 180 days consecutive camping on private land
Steamboat Springs — Cari Hermacinski cast the dissenting vote Tuesday as the Routt County commissioners passed new regulations governing camping on private property in rural Routt County by a 2-1 margin.
The subject of camping has become a bone of contention in the county over the past six months due to complaints about people some residents say have been “camping” on a permanent basis in a rural neighborhood.
The new regulations impose time constraints on private camping (commercial campgrounds are not affected) that were previously missing from the county’s formal definition of the activity, which is commonplace in northwestern Colorado. The old definition read: “The use of temporary living accommodations such as tents, tepees, yurts, and recreation vehicles such as motor homes or trailers.”
The county has been hosting public hearings and work sessions since September in an effort to draft more specific regulations, and it’s the vagueness of the word “temporary” that has been the focus. Hermacinski said she would put personal property rights above the need to be more specific.
“If we can clarify the word ‘temporary,’ if we leave and have done that, then we’ve accomplished something,” Hermacinski said. “But the balance is impinging on people’s rights to use their property.”
Directing her comments to Planning Director Chad Phillips, she added, “Chad, you’ve just said that in 17 years, nobody has asked, ‘What’s temporary?’ I don’t think that we’re having such a problem with the definition of the word ‘temporary’ that I would have entered into this process and been willing to impinge on people’s rights to use their property.”
The new regulations provide for one level that would allow a maximum of 60 days of camping, cumulative in a calendar year, as a use by right, and no permit would be necessary.
The second level of extended camping would allow a maximum stay of 180 days continuous in a calendar year, but would require a minor use permit, available over the counter at the Planning Department.
The new county definition of camping also specifically exempts legitimate agricultural operations from the time constraints and rural properties with approved residences on them (where camping is deemed an accessory use).
The choice of 180 days was not arbitrary. Although that number is not contained in existing county regulations, Assistant Planning Director Kristy Winser told commissioners it’s been determined that 180 days was the limit for camping at which time the need for regulatory oversight to ensure public health kicks in.
Hermacinski, who took office in January, offered apologies for dissenting after coming late to the party. However, she said she was uncomfortable with her perception that the regulations were being rewritten specifically to curtail camping at the controversial Pine Springs neighborhood just south of Steamboat Springs. The homeowners association at neighboring Alpine Mountain Ranch and Club has lodged a complaint about people occupying informal living accommodations there.
The county has filed a lawsuit against Pine Springs owners Mark and Lori Elliott seeking to remove a disputed A-frame building at Pine Springs.
Hermacinski said she is concerned that the new time limits are being imposed to curtail a relative handful of people at Pine Springs at the possible expense of many private campers who have for many years been pursuing that pastime on their own land without attracting any attention.
Hermacinski also alluded to the possibility that it might be appropriate for a judge to define what is temporary.
Commissioners Tim Corrigan and Doug Monger said they were ready to approve the new regulations.
“I have no desire to let the courts decide the definition of ‘temporary”; who knows what they come back with? They might decide that three days is temporary,” Corrigan said.
“I think that by putting this down and defining what temporary is, we’ve exempted out ag use and exempted accessory use,” Monger said.
Among the approximately 25 members of the public who attended the Tuesday hearing at the Routt County Courthouse, almost all of the public comment came from residents of Pine Springs. The neighborhood comprises 5-acre lots and has never been approved by the county as a subdivision. It was the subject of a complaint to the county last summer from the nearby Alpine Mountain and Ranch subdivision over people living there in alternative forms of housing, including yurts and converted vehicles.
“I don’t necessarily want to camp out 180 days, but because I own property, I should be able to occupy it at will,” Pine Springs owner Karen Fitzgerald said. “I’m tired of people telling me the only thing I can do on my property is recreate. It’s arbitrary and ridiculous. I believe the regs are fine the way they are.” There is “an issue with one constituent in the county. You’ve allowed that one complaint to have this giant effect on loads of people in the county. This is Routt County — rustic living used to be admirable.”
Calling it an “illegal subdivision,” all three commissioners agreed they would not entertain issuing permits for 180-day camping at Pine Springs.
“I know this is going to disappoint a lot of people in this room, this idea of trying to change your situation on an illegal lot. I’m not interested in trying to figure out how to make your lots legal,” Hermacinski said.
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