Camp Revolt

by Rick Langenberg:





Teller campers seek help with overzealous regulations

Why kill one of the best kept secrets of Teller County’s burgeoning tourism and lodging industry: summer campers and adults who want to hang out at rustic retreat centers and more antiquated facilities that may not meet modern 21st century land use regulations?

And with the memories of the Waldo Canyon fire and other blazes of 2012 in the high country still lingering, what happens if these camp facilities are destroyed by a natural disaster or incur deterioration? Will the county just put these outlets out of business for the sake of enforcing Teller’s 2008 land use regulations that require special permits and hefty additional costs for further building and improvement activities at these sites? These concerns were conveyed loud and clear by representatives of the county’s leading camp facilities, who believe they are fighting for their economic survival, during a recent hearing before the Teller commissioners.

At issue are the county’s current land use rules that would pose major hurdles for camp facilities, if the property owners had to rebuild a structure that gets burned down or make slight improvements. Currently, they are designated as non-conforming structures. But if the camp owners have to suddenly rebuild a structure, or do a slight expansion within the same footprint of a previous building site, they are plain out of luck, based on Teller codes. And unfortunately, the cost of doing replacement structures and bringing them up to full conformity, based on current codes, is unrealistic, according to camp proponents and county officials. “If a key building was destroyed, it would put us out of business,” said Mike MacDonald, a representative of the Colorado Outdoor Education/Sanborn Western Camp, during a recent Teller County commissioners’ meeting earlier this month. He and other camp proponents emphasized that fire damage and other disasters are real threats for these property owners and are a reality they must contend with.

They also touted the benefit these facilities serve for young people. “Camps and conference centers are leaders in promoting healthy lifestyles for both children and adults who may visit these centers and experience a nurturing community and gain a close connection with the physical world,” said Jane Sanborn, executive director for Sanborn Western Camps. “These requirements are onerous,” added Dan Faulkner, Camp Director of Camp Elim, located off Painted Rocks Road. He noted that many camp buildings were constructed on a shoe-string budget and weren’t designed to adhere to more updated codes. “These people are hurting,” stated real estate broker Sharon Roshek, who played a key role with an economic advisory group that studies the importance of camp lodging facilities in Teller County and compiled a survey. “This could be catastrophic,” she added in explaining the negative impact the current land use rules have on these properties, with their lack of flexibility. Plus, Roshek cited the strong economic benefit these facilities provide the county.

According to the group’s findings, these camp facilities are a major player in the county’s tourism industry, employing more than 480 people and generate at least $5 million in annual revenue for the region. Roshek estimated that Teller abounds with dozens of camp centers in Teller County.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Brian Fleer, the economic development director for Woodland Park. “It’s a neat reflection of what is happening in the region,” said Fleer, when explaining the significance of such properties as Sanborn Camp. And while traveling throughout the country during previous consulting stints, Fleer said he was amazed at how many people knew about Teller County through these camp facilities.

In a letter to the commissioners, Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery requested that the board “take a proactive stance in supporting streamlined land use regulations regarding camps and retreats, to them to succeed and prosper.”

The camp supporters, though, didn’t have to do much arm-twisting with the commissioners.

“The world is changing,” said Commission Chairman Jim Ignatius. He cautioned that Teller’s land use rules are a work in progress and that many regulations were crafted and then later changed based on public input. When the rules were adopted in 2008, the county was trying to develop more cautionary stance against future growth. Times have changes since these earlier regulations were adopted, noted Ignatius.

With little hesitation, the commissioners adopted new rules that will make life much easier for camp facilities, allowing them to construct new buildings and make improvements without having to adhere to more rigid rules. In essence, they are granted a more permanent non-conforming legal status. The only catch is that any new buildings they construct can’t exceed a certain height. The new changes in the rules mainly deal with replacement buildings or slight additions that adhere to the camp’s basic character. It doesn’t open the door for camp owners to do full-scale building activity and large expansions without getting their plans reviewed.

Following this decision, Ignatius advised the group to take the next step and propose ways the county could assist them further with more flexible regulations.