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A New Building Code for the Rural West

Essay by Don Olsen

Rural Life – March 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

OUR COUNTY in rural western Colorado is considering the establishment of building-code regulations. In more urbanized areas of the West (i.e. Aspen, Jackson Hole, Ketchum, Flagstaff) this probably isn’t such a big deal. But in Delta County, where an old trailer set on cinder blocks is considered Martha-Stewart-Style living, building codes are about as welcome as a United Nations contingent searching for new world heritage sites.

Yet in an effort to help local officials design a code that fits the diverse, and sometimes eccentric, lifestyles of county residents, I’ve come up with a few construction and landscaping rules that will no doubt enliven our quality of life here in Delta County:

All passive solar and other energy-efficient designs are prohibited. Such housing is considered unfair competition to the coal and gas industries, which are important employers in the local economy. South-facing windows are allowed, but only if they’re left open in the wintertime.

All homes must have at least one locally manufactured wooden butterfly prominently displayed, preferably on a garage door.

Strawbale houses are permitted, as long as the straw is grown by the owner of the house.

All rubber-tire houses are prohibited on the grounds that they’re just too weird.

Airpark subdivisions are allowed, but resident-pilots must turn off their engines before final approach so as not to disturb the neighbors. An open hunting season on low-flying Cessnas and Cherokee Pipers will be conducted every October.

All tipis must be earth-tone in color, and must be certified by the Ute Indian Tribe as authentic in design.

Chain-link fencing is strictly prohibited, except at the local state-prison facility, which is already so ugly that a little chain-link might actually help beautify it.

All new housing must have at least one junk car and a patch of weeds prominently displayed in its front yard in an effort to help drive local realtors absolutely berserk.

All homes built with waferboard products from the local Louisiana-Pacific plant must include a ventilation system to remove dangerous formaldehyde gas build-ups. However, all local L-P corporate executives will be allowed to apply for a variance to this regulation.

All greenhouses and greenhouse additions must have properly certified FAA clearances for nearby hovering sheriff’s department drug helicopters.

All rural mail boxes must be attached to either antique washing machines or to some type of pre-1940s-era farm equipment.

Any high-power security light of more than 1,000 watts that is unshaded must have a bull’s eye painted on it for the convenience of neighboring residents.

New housing built in natural wildfire zones will be considered part of the county’s “Let-It-Burn” policy, which designates volunteer firefighters’ lives more valuable than back-country development.

Thirty-five-acre “ranchettes” are permissible, as long as residents accrue 96 percent of their household income from that ranchette. Any ranchette owner who names his place “Shady Acres” will automatically have his property confiscated.

Door bells are mandatory in all new housing and must greet visitors with a “Howdy Stranger!” chime whenever rung.

All domestic animals, including livestock, must be properly leashed at all times. “Dog houses,” “barns” and similar animal housing must be properly heated, and must also conform to all county building-code requirements.

All satellite antenna dishes visible to the public must be painted to look like giant sunflowers. If neighboring residents object, dishes may instead be painted to look like smiling happy faces.

And finally, all of these regulations, as well as any others the county might wish to add, are automatically considered unfunded government mandates, and as such, compliance must be paid for by the county’s building-code enforcement department.

Don Olsen is the editor of The Valley Chronicle, a monthly magazine located in the North Fork Valley of western Colorado. He is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News.