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The recent news that Chaffee County is now classified by the Chafee Housing Authority, based on Department of Housing definitions — as a “rural-resort” county is to some eyes, a somewhat shocking piece of news.

Was this what we wanted for our high country county?

Are we giving up on our gritty agricultural heritage that is part rural charm and part fortitude and all hard work?

The first thing that came to mind as I absorbed that information was the inundation of the Catskills with resorty-New Yorkers wrapped in Hermes scarves and lunching about in chic resort wear before returning to their expensively-converted barns in tourist-overrun hamlets.

Affordable housing is deeply woven into community issues in the high country. Photo: Salida RV Resort Park

It was news to discover that there is a definition of “rural-resort” that appears to be in use by the Department of Housing (DOH) for housing grant opportunities.

“DOH’s designation of some counties in Colorado as ‘rural resort’ means their grant applications are beginning to reflect such,” explained Chaffee Housing Authority (CHA) Director Becky Gray. “As of now, this means that DOH fund in Chaffee County can be used to reach people earning up to 140 percent of our AMI ($80,640 for a single person) for rental support and 160 percent AMI ($92,160 for a single person) for homeowner opportunities.”

Apparently based on that DOH decision,, the term “rural-resort” is sliding into usage across other rural-small-town Colorado mountain communities from Chaffee through Vail, Edwards, Steamboat Springs, Granby, and Winter Park.

“I suspect that if I sleuthed a bit more on DOH’s site, I may find the announcement, but their grant guidance demonstrates it in practice,” she added.

While no reason for the rural-resort designation has yet surfaced, one could surmise that the assumption is being made that resorts require lower-income workers to clean rooms, wait on tables and cook meals. Whether or not this really fits the AMI designations explained by Gray is not quite clear. The AMI designations are certainly above what this resident journalist can call an income.

Well — so this is a government definition — but not according to the U.S. Census. If you Google “What is the definition of a rural-resort county?” the first items that come up are in foreign languages.

The U.S. Census Bureau isn’t much help here. It identifies two types of urban areas:

  1. Urbanized Areas (UAs) of 50,000 or more people;
  2. Urban Clusters (UCs) of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people.

The Census does not actually define “rural.” “Rural” encompasses all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area. And it says nothing about a rural-resort definition.

If you Google the question, “What is the definition of a resort county?” very little pops up, and nothing at all for Colorado. But according to  Law Insider — the neighboring state of Utah definition of a resort community “means a municipality in which the transient room capacity as defined in Utah Code Section 59-12-405 is greater than or equal to 66 percent of the municipality’s permanent census population.”

But, just to be on the safe side, they also offer this definition from another state apparently also dealing with this:

Resort community means a community comprised of a mix of uses that meet the recreational needs of resort owners, renters, the traveling and vacationing public and visitors on a four-season basis and is distinct in purpose, form, and function from a complete community in a settlement area. It is comprised of resource-based recreational resort residential units and/or fractional ownership resort residential units and rental units available to visitors, together with extensive and integrated recreational and tourism-related amenities, and a predominance of open space all on lands defined as resort land under the Big Bay Resort Association Act, 2010. Owners within the Resort Community are members of the Resort Association under the Big Bay Resort Association Act, 2010.

So … combined with what we Chaffee County residents know about our rural and agricultural way of life — and the tourism aspects of our economy focused on our river and our mountains — does the word “resort” fit us, let alone rural resort?

For that matter — did anyone ask us?

Speaking as a Chalk Creek Canyon resident, I live in a canyon area, that was populated by full-time and part-time residents when we moved there. It was a neighborhood. Within the past five years, the county has gone through a couple of stages of unfettered short-term rentals (STRs), to permitted STRs, to a cap on permitted STRs. But no stage has actually assessed the geographic dispersion of STRs across the county.  In areas of the country such as where this journalist lives, residents and out-of-state owners have inundated us with strangers who are often rude, occasionally arrogant, and sometimes dangerously reckless. Shades of the Catskills.

Is this what “rural-resort” actually means? Again — did anyone ask us?