Our view: Finding the way home | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Finding the way home


Coming to terms with the realities of the housing market


The community deserves an open discussion about how nontraditional housing could responsibly fill some of the gap in our housing supply.

There are several ways to look at the new time constraints on private camping in rural areas of Routt County imposed by the county commissioners this week.

You may see it has an imposition on property rights. Or you could justify it as a necessary step to ensure that people don’t camp out permanently in woods and meadows without adequate sanitation facilities. We could make the case that living in informal housing, at the end of unimproved roads, risks the possibility that people and property will also be beyond the reach of emergency services.

However, we think the most impactful result of the new regulations may be an increased awareness that people working in modestly paying jobs in mountain resort towns are looking for alternative forms of housing, or smaller domiciles, because they not only need to get by but are committed to living with less.

The county commissioners voted 2-1 on March 10, with Commissioner Cari Hermacinski dissenting, to place time limits, for the first time, on how many days people can camp on their own land. Agricultural properties and approved rural building lots with a home already on them are exempt. And the new regulations have no impact on commercial campgrounds.

The new regulations provide one level of camping that would allow a maximum of 60 days of camping, cumulative in a calendar year, as a use by right. No permit would be called for. Camping facilities must be removed when camping is not taking place.

The second level of extended camping would allow a maximum stay of 180 days continuous in a calendar year, but require a minor use permit, available over the counter at the planning department. Camping facilities could stay in place for up to 180 days.

Those time limits strike us as being perfectly reasonable for camping. But we know there are people in Routt County who see “camping” as a way of life.

One of the results of the county’s public hearings that have stretched out over more than five months, since September 2014, is that when it comes to enforcement of its zoning code, Routt County relies upon complaint-based enforcement. That is to say, until someone brings a zoning violation to their attention, they may not be actively enforcing it, because they are unaware of it.

While that strikes us as being less than ideal and lacking in commitment, we cannot disagree with Commissioner Tim Corrigan, who said March 10 that he does not think it unreasonable for government to set out reasonable rules and rely on its citizens to live up to them. It isn’t unreasonable, but it may be unrealistic.

We have heard of people living in nonconforming housing in the countryside around Steamboat Springs on sites carefully selected for how difficult they are to spot. If Routt County government isn’t aware of you, it is unlikely to bother you.

That said, we commend Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips who has demonstrated more than once during the last six or seven months that he understands that the reason some people are “camping” for extended periods, or living in non-traditional forms of housing like yurts and recreational vehicles, is the increasing difficulty in finding affordable traditional housing here.

Phillips has said that he intends to host public work sessions this year to hear people’s thoughts on a trend some refer to as the “tiny house” movement — essentially a way of living in smaller homes outside of the model of suburban tract and urban apartments and condos. It may turn out to be a fad, but right now, it’s a rapidly expanding trend among Millennials in particular.

Tiny homes of several hundred square feet are sometimes built on flat-bed trailers, supporting the wanderlust of mountain folks.

Phillips isn’t implying any endorsement of non-traditional housing. But we think it’s fitting that a planning director in a community that is challenged to house its workforce is open to listening to new ideas.

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