Brief by Jan Evans
Zoning – October 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine
A local building contractor has suggested that Frémont County should throw out its zoning regulations and start over.
That sounded like the raving of an overzealous survivalist, until I explored the fascinating world of county zoning regulations. Compared to neighboring Custer and Chaffee Counties, Frémont’s rules concerning what people can do with their land are the most complex.
Custer County has only five zoning districts and no building inspections. Chaffee has nine zones, while Frémont has eighteen different zoning designations.
Zoning came to Frémont County in 1968, but the master plan was not implemented until 1995. In those 27 years, many ranches were subdivided. In keeping with established lot sizes and uses at the time the master plan was adopted, zoning districts are perplexing. There are mines next to residential areas and nonconforming businesses sharing lot lines with ranches.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Frémont County’s zoning regulations is the livestock equality formula: One horse/cow equals two llamas/swine equals four ostriches equals five alpacas/sheep/goats equals 25 poultry/rabbits.
Each of the districts allows various numbers of animals per lot. If you’re thinking of subsistence farming here, you’d better buy a calculator.
Even with such specifics, the formula lacks equality in size. My neighbor raises miniature horses. Most weigh less than 200 pounds. My horse is a thousand-pounder. But both are categorized simply as horses.
What about donkeys? They weigh about two to an average horse. But if they’re mammoth, they’re horse size, and miniatures are one-fifth the size of a horse.
Is an emu comparable to chickens, or categorized with an ostrich? Frémont County needs more than brand and building inspectors; it needs a portable scale and a mathematician to ensure compliance with zoning regulations.
Home Business on the Range
Gentrified country folk would rather not be tied down with livestock but seek other means to augment their pensions. The kids have fled, leaving three beautiful bedrooms vacant; it’s time to share this most beautiful place on earth with guests. With the Internet making worldwide advertising practical and affordable, guests who pay (as opposed to flatlander friends and relatives) would provide company and increase income to pay the taxes on high real estate valuation.
Chaffee County is the easiest place to legally operate a Bed and Breakfast. Frémont allows B&B’s in two zoning districts. In seven other districts a B&B is allowed subject to Special Review Use hearing. Custer County hangs the B&B permission on the state by requiring a commercial well or well augmentation — expensive and difficult to achieve.
Working and living in the same place saves time and precious fossil fuels. All three counties allow home occupations as long as guidelines are followed.
Custer County takes first prize for home business simplicity. It even allows customers to come to your home business as long as you provide off-road parking. The business must be “carried on solely by inhabitants of the dwelling,” unlike Chaffee County where regulations specify “blood relatives” — no mention of relation by marriage, or habitation. Chaffee cites thirteen other specifications in its definition of home occupation which is allowed in five zones.
Again, Frémont County wins the complexity category with three levels of home occupation allowed in only seven districts. But the good news is the county doesn’t require DNA testing for participants in a home-based business, just adherence to specifications of the particular zoning district.
The Name Game
An attorney has a nice house, not ostentatious but quality built, on his 35-acre ranchette. He wanted to build a small guest cabin. Frémont zoning regulations did not allow a house of that size on his lot. He studied the rules and instructed the architect to change the guest house to an “office” with an “executive washroom” and “reception area.” He doesn’t have a “guest house,” but is proud owner of a country branch office.
Another rural property owner wanted a small office constructed a few feet from his existing business building, which already had a restroom. Frémont zoning requires a washroom in an office building. To avoid the unnecessary plumbing, he built a “ticket booth” rather than an “office.”
Perhaps Frémont County has the best of three zoning regulations. More specific and complex regulations give imaginative landowners more opportunity for creative thinking. Like the IRS tax code, more rules provide more loopholes.