After months of refining, on Nov. 15 the Grand County Commission passed its Alternative Dwelling Ordinance, creating a pathway for RVs and other non-conventional dwellings to be used as long-term residences in approved developments.
The policy is intended to help relieve the housing crisis by legalizing more affordable options and restricting them to Grand County workers (including seasonal or temporary employees). Anecdotally, officials are aware that many Grand County workers already illegally live in unconventional housing—camping outside of established campgrounds, even on private property, is prohibited in the county. Code enforcement officers have been hesitant to issue compliance orders for these violations, however, as they know that many of those residents don’t have other viable housing options. Establishing approved alternative dwelling developments would give those illegal campers an affordable and legitimate alternative.
The ordinance does not approve existing campsites; rather, it outlines a path for property owners to create developments that meet a general set of criteria. Once alternative dwelling developments are established, people in illegal locations could move to the approved developments.
Alternative dwelling units could also offer housing to people who are otherwise camping on public land, staying with friends, or in other unstable arrangements; more affordable housing options could also help employers recruit and retain staff.
Through workshops and discussions at regular meetings, the commission worked with Planning and Zoning staff and the Planning Commission to hone the policy’s language. Officials still disagreed on some aspects of the plan. For example, the ordinance is being launched as a pilot program, with a cap on the number of units that can be approved. Arguments were made to keep the pilot small, at no more than 50 units; commissioners ultimately approved the program with a cap of 150 units, or one year from its adoption, whichever happens first.
Policy makers debated drawing an explicit overlay map showing where alternative dwelling developments would be allowed, but ultimately the commission voted to use a less specific approach. Each proposed development will be considered legislatively, so commissioners will have the chance to evaluate the pros and cons of each individual project and determine whether it’s in an appropriate location.
“All of us say we don’t really intend these to be plunked down in the middle of relatively rural and residential parts of the county,” said Commissioner Kevin Walker, but he pointed out that, as has been noted in previous discussions, some areas that are technically zoned “rural residential” might actually be good candidates for alternative dwelling developments. Rather than naming specific zones or drawing an overlay map, the ordinance directs the commission to consider a set of criteria, including the character of the neighborhood and historic use of the property.
Staff also added an “intent to apply” step to the application process for alternative dwelling developments, similar to the one included in the recently revamped special event permit process. Prospective developers can propose a location and a rough idea of their intended development; that gives the commission an opportunity to indicate whether it might be interested in approving the project, before the developer invests a significant amount of time, energy and money in completing the full application process.
Occupancy requirements for alternative dwelling units are outlined sparsely in the ordinance. Overnight accommodations are strictly prohibited; units cannot be rented for less than 60 days, either by a tenant or by an employer.
Commissioner Sarah Stock reminded the group,
“We came to this less stringent requirement for occupancy in the hopes that it didn’t create a huge burden of enforcement.” Commissioner Josie Kovash said that in talking with potential developers, it sounded like violations of the intended use of alternative dwellings would be “relatively obvious.”
Commissioners voted 6-0 to approve the policy. Commissioner Trisha Hedin—who has consistently opposed the approach, citing concerns she’s heard from residents of rural areas—was absent.
“There are still some things that I don’t absolutely love or that seems like it could be clearer,” said Commissioner Evan Clapper. “But I don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good… if we continue to tool this over and over and over, then we’re just going to keep kicking the can down the road. And I’d really like to see some of these coming online sooner than later.”