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  • Dylan Anderson

Routt County moving toward limit on house size of 7,500 square feet with potential exceptions

Specifics of the new policy are still being discussed, but limiting how big houses in Routt County saw support from both county commissioners and planning commissioners.

Routt County officials indicated in a workshop last week that they favored placing some sort of limit on how big homes could be built in the Yampa Valley — likely 7,500 square feet — though the specifics of the new regulation is still being devised.

The Routt County Planning Commission held a joint meeting with the Routt County Commissioners last week to discuss several key aspects of the upcoming code updates. While the group discussed other aspects, a proposed limit on how big homes could be built drew must of the attention during public comment and in the discussion.

While not everyone was on board, a majority of both the county commissioners and planning commissioners felt some sort of limit at 7,500 square feet was appropriate. This restriction wouldn’t include square footage in basements or garages.

Variations of that limit discussed included extending the regulation to all new development, exempting certain types of development or requiring some sort of impact fee to build larger houses, among other ideas.

“We have an obligation to look to the future,” said Planning Commissioner Linda Miller. “At this juncture in the future of the country, we know that climate is an issue. … We have to start somewhere, and if part of that is to say let’s try to figure out a way to make houses a more sustainable situation from an energy standpoint, then I think we have some good options.”

The two groups will hold another joint meeting at 4 p.m. on Thursday to discuss more aspects of the code update, including the subdivision review process, wildfire mitigation, oil and gas development and historic preservation.

Commissioner Tim Corrigan said for him, there are three reasons to limit home sizes: climate impacts, community character and affordability. Climate, Corrigan said, because while they may be built efficiently, larger homes are going to consume more energy generally. For community character, he said it is hard to define, but “you know it when it doesn’t feel right.”

“And affordability, there’s no question that if you have a large number of wealthy people move into a community and purchase property and drive up home values, you’re going to make it more difficult for the working class to live here,” Corrigan said.

Caption: This slide from last week's meeting shows various options presented for how to limit, or not limit the size of homes in Routt County. (Routt County Planning Department/Courtesy).

Planning staff have conducted several surveys to get public input on the question of home sizes. A survey conducted during the master planning process showed about 60% of the more than 800 respondents favored some restriction on home size. Another survey on the question just 21% of roughly 100 respondents said they didn’t favor any restrictions.

The most recent survey turned up a shift in results though, with 58% of the more than 1,100 respondents saying they didn’t want any restriction.

Many members of the public addressed the potential limit on home sizes during the work session, with more of them speaking out against the idea. Planning Commissioner Ren Martyn was the only one to say he opposed any restriction on home size during the work session, saying he did not understand how the size of a home was related goals in the Routt County Master plan meant to preserve rural character.

“I’ve never seen the nexus between the master plan, master planning process and a residential capped size,” Martyn said. “I’m not prepared to move forward with this regulation as I don’t believe the process has been fairly vetted.”

Planning Director Kristy Winser explained that restricting building house size has been talked about as a potential idea since the start of the master planning process.

“We didn’t come up with these concerns on our own, this is what your community told us,” Winser said, pointing to goals in the updated master plan. “This is a strategy to help support the policies that support rural character, community character and the [Routt County Climate Action Plan] policies.”

Commissioner Sonja Macys noted that there are just over 200 homes in Routt County that are currently larger than 7,500 square feet out of the roughly 5,000 homes in the unincorporated county. She also noted that many of these larger homes are owned by second homeowners and will increase the number of jobs locally.

Macys suggested they could explore connecting larger homes to some sort of impact fee to build beyond 7,500 square feet rather than a hard restriction.  

“They are not cleaning their homes themselves, they’re not shoveling, plowing and there’s landscaping. … When we talk about all these jobs, where do they live?” Macys asked. “Are we talking about an impact fee, are we talking about that larger homes have a more significant impact on our services, our workforce housing, one all the issues related to sustainability?”

The Board of County Commissioners and Planning Commissioner will meet for another joint meeting at 4 p.m. on Thursday in the Commissioners Hearing room at the historic Routt County Courthouse.

Top Photo Caption: A a large modern home looms in the distance behind a decaying building in unincorporated Routt County south of Steamboat Springs. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)


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