Mountain Recreation Land – Beware of Zoning Laws That May Restrict Your Use

[ February 2020 | By Ninah Hunter, Real Estate Editor ]

I regularly get prospective buyers looking to buy raw land in this beautiful part of Colorado where they can recreate in their RV for a few weeks or months a year or live in it indefinitely.

That usually rules out parcels within a PUD (Planned Unit Development, aka subdivision). With few exceptions, most PUDs restrict camping on your lot, some prohibiting it completely and others limiting it to a certain time frame, such as a year, while you build your permanent residence.

This means you’ll usually need to look for lots with no covenants. What most buyers don’t realize, however, is that even if a lot has no covenants, local zoning and land use laws may restrict the use of privately owned land and—in effect—the length of time one may camp or live in an RV or other structure, such as a yurt, tipi, or tent, on one’s own property.

In Ouray County, for example, under the Ouray County Non-commercial Camping Ordinance (Ordinance 2014-01), property owners may camp on their property up to 30 days per year, whether consecutive or cumulative, as a use by right, subject to proper sanitation and other requirements.

Camping longer than 30 days requires a long-term camping permit, and property owners must apply for the permit using the county’s application form. The parcel must be at least 3 acres in size. Applicants must also demonstrate that adequate sanitation or sewage facilities are available. Composting toilets are not considered adequate.

Long-term camping still restricts how many days a year you can camp, depending on both the type of sanitation, type of structure, and number of people there are. If you’re in an RV with an internal holding tank, you can extend your camping to 90 days between May and December, limited to 4 persons max. If you use a porta-potty maintained by a rental company (limited to 6 people) or a permitted OWTS (On-site Wastewater Treatment System, which has no maximum on people), you are allowed up to 180 days between May and December. And if you have a permitted OWTS and a building permit for a single family dwelling, and construction is underway, you can camp for 365 days (no max on number of people), but you must renew your permit annually.

In sum, it’s complicated. Just because you own the land doesn’t mean you have unrestricted use of it. Every county has its own zoning and land use regulations that dictate your use of the property. Do your homework before you buy. *