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In a lengthy Tuesday afternoon work session, the Chaffee County Planning Commission took on one of the county’s hottest land use topics – whether recreational vehicles can be considered permanent housing. Although work sessions typically don’t allow public comment, several residents of the county, many of whom live in RVs, showed up to participate in the discussion.

Planning commissioners acknowledged awareness of workforce housing challenges. “We have a housing crisis,” said chair Mike Allen. “A lot of our employees in the service sector are seasonal. They need access to a trailer, a tiny home. I am aware of the rafting worker housing here, and if you want to talk about quality of living, it’s perspective – a roof and plumbing is a big deal.”

“I put this on the agenda because we’ve been getting requests from people asking about creating campgrounds,” said Planner Christy Barton. “On the commercial application, it’s just a check box, not a public process, so that worries me. … This is a staff sign-off. I want discussion. I don’t want to sign off on a campground for seasonal employees or for workforce housing, and it becomes permanent housing. That way people never get decent housing. … Do you want to change the code to make (campground applications) all limited impact reviews?”

“I lived in a trailer that moved until I was in eighth grade, and I never thought it was substandard. I think our terminology needs to be reviewed,” said Planning Commission member Dan McCabe. “If you tell my friend with an $800,000 mobile home that it’s not a permanent home, he’d disagree. We ought to at least update our terminology. We don’t have definitions for all these things.”

Allen asked how staff knows if existing RV parks are being used for temporary or permanent living space. He  added that he sees people at Snowy Peaks in Buena Vista yearround.

“We have permanent RV-ers,” said Planning Commissioner Bill Baker. “There are people who ski or who are here for the summer who live in RVs. The other side of it is we’re adjacent to public land, and that’s workforce housing – it’s people up there – seasonal employees, rafting employees. I see families living in truck campers, and the truck is full of drywall and siding, so you know they’re working. You’re only allowed 14 days’ stay on public land, but who’s enforcing it?”

“We’re here,” said one resident who attended the work session. “Yes, we live in campers. We’re working and trying to get ahead.”

“Even if we could find a place, we can’t afford the rents in town,” said another man, his children sitting on either side of him. “We’re not intending to be in RVs forever, but give us a chance. We have to live somewhere.”

“I live in a camper because there is nowhere in town that actually pays enough to afford a place to stay in town,” said another man. “I’ve been to apartment places and they look at me and they say, ‘You have a daughter (she’s 4) and that’s too small.’ We’re the workforce of tomorrow and where do we go? We need a place to put these RVs – we can’t afford $1,400-a-month rent. We don’t have that money or the down payments. That leaves those of us with kids … where do we go? We know people leaving town because they can’t make enough, and that’s leaving job openings.”

“What is the difference between one person living for 52 weeks on a site versus 52 people living for one week – why does it matter?” asked Planning Commissioner Bruce Cogan. “What difference does it make if someone is living in that RV, whether on vacation or permanent?”

“We do have sections in our code, if someone wants to permit a park, then they can sell the lots and live there permanently in their mobile homes or RVs,” said Barton. “In 2016 (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) put in a proposal (regarding RVs as recreational and temporary housing), but it’s not a permanent rule. The Department of Local Affairs has a document about the installation of manufactured homes, and it says local jurisdictions can approve permanent facilities. We only have Article 15,” which defines an RV as “temporary living quarters, not a permanent dwelling.”

Commissioners pointed out the range of RV quality. “There are RVs technically not designed to live in all the time,” said Baker. “You can live in one for 18 months, but not forever. I thought there was some limitation on our books on how long you could stay – 120 days – but I can’t find it. I think the questions staff raises about taxes, schools, mail and just adequate housing for people to live in, is something we should be concerned with.”

“What I’m trying to develop is higher end – a place like some I’ve identified in my research where the RVs are put on landscaped lots. They don’t look like they’re going to roll off,” said Marny Dannenberg, who is in the process of developing an RV park. “It would be a park home community, tiny houses mostly, a higher end community.”

“The terminology we’re talking about is campgrounds, but it doesn’t mean camping. To these people, it’s home,” said McCabe. “We can’t just use the word campground and expect it to cover all the contingencies contained therein … any more than we can use the term RV and know what it means.”

The current code allows for administrative review approvals, but Barton pointed out it’s a zoning compliance, not an administrative interpretation. Cogan asked whether the proposal would allow permanent camping for current campgrounds. Planning Manager Jon Roorda said currently Article 15 of the land use code refers to temporary living quarters, not permanent.

The Planning Commission requested that staff develop a recommendation with land use code options to reflect the county’s RV realities, including the possibility of creating a special campground zone.