Routt County commissioners expected to discuss permitting extended camping from 31 to 180 days

Tom Ross

If you go

What: Routt County Board of Commissioners meet to consider adding specific conditions to zoning code regarding long-term camping on private land

When: 2 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Routt County Courthouse, 522 Lincoln Ave.

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners could decide Tuesday whether it wants to proceed with amending zoning regulations to define extended camping on private lands in the rural county, a path that could lead to issuing minor use permits for people who wish to camp on their land for longer periods, from 31 to 180 continuous days.

County planners also will ask the commissioners if they want to consider “creating an exception process to allow illegally-created parcels to obtain permits that may be required for extended camping.” It’s a reference to the Pine Springs neighborhood, which never has had status as a legal subdivision. It was a complaint from a neighbor of Pine Springs regarding long-term camping, some of it in a yurt or converted vehicle, that triggered this year’s county hearings about the definition of legal camping.

In addition to revisiting camping regulations, the county is signaling that it intends to study some alternative forms of permanent housing in a separate process that would involve a series of work sessions in 2015.

“What we tried to do this time around is ask, ‘What is the board willing to do, if anything, on legal ag/forestry parcels?’ and after that, ‘What are we willing to do on illegal lots?’ and then next year” have public discussions about alternative forms of housing, county Planning Director Chad Phillips said.

Tuesday’s meeting is a work session being held to give the county planning staff direction on how to proceed with questions about camping on private land that arose in late summer. No ultimate decision is expected to result from the meeting.

Subsequent public hearings have been well attended by residents, some who are quick to confirm that they are pursuing alternative living arrangements, and others, who say that part of their enjoyment of their rural property long has involved pitching a tent for occasional use throughout the summer.

This year’s discussions at the county level have taken into consideration fire safety, proper handling of human waste and water quality issues that might result from long-term camping.

Tuesday’s discussion about how to best manage long-term camping follows a Nov. 4 work session that concluded with the county commissioners directing planning staff to pursue a new definition that specifies a time limit for camping and a threshold for a point at which camping would require permits.

Up until this year, the county’s definition of camping for regulatory purposes has been sparse: “The use of temporary living accommodations such as tents, tepees, yurts and recreation vehicles such as motor homes or trailers for up to 30 days.”

In a Dec. 3 memo to the commissioners, Assistant Planning Director Kristy Winser offered four “standards” they might consider adding to the the existing definition.

They include:

• A maximum stay of 30 days cumulative in a calendar year shall be allowed as a use by right.

• Camping shelters and accessories must be removed when not in use.

• No permanent structures or alterations shall be permitted.

Winser also suggested a definition and standards for extended camping.

“The intent and focus is to apply the (standards) to existing and future build-able lots in the Ag/Forestry Zone District,” Winser wrote in the memo.

Standards the commissioners might consider applying to extended camping include:

• Requirement of an annual minor use permit.

• All necessary permits or approvals would include, but not be limited to, those from the building and environmental health departments as well as fire protection districts around the county.

• The 31- to 180-day term would run continuously.

• Camping shelters would be allowed to remain erected during the 31- to 180-day permit even when not in use.

• Minimum driveway specifications in accordance with the fire code would be required.

• Extended camping could be used as a recreational or leisure activity, but not as a primary dwelling.

With regard to exploring alternative dwellings next year, Winser wrote: “The county and the Planning Department would like to consider issues that have been brought up by members of the public such as tiny homes and alternative living situations with temporary, permanent or semi-permanent tenure. Staff anticipates scheduling work sessions to gather public comments in 2015.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.