Douglas County is considering changes to its residential zoning ordinances to put seasonal dwellings on a level playing field with year-round homes.
The change would eliminate the requirement for a conditional use permit for a seasonal dwelling, which requires approval from the Douglas County Zoning Committee. Instead, the permits would be issued like general permits for construction of a home.
"Thinking back over the almost two decades being here with the county, we couldn't come up with any examples where the committee denied one of those requests," said Keith Wiley, zoning coordinator. "So if the committee isn't going to deny requests, I feel that it's better for citizens that we treat a seasonal dwelling just the same as we would a year-round. Just have a general permit that we hand out over the counter ... rather than delaying their project by at least a month for them just to go through the exercise of coming before the committee."
While the conditional use permit gives towns the opportunity to weigh in on plans, Wiley said the towns would still be involved through the universal dwelling code.
Supervisor Charlie Glazman, a member of the zoning committee, said that would only ensure that a home was built to code, not whether or not the new home was a good fit for the community.
The changes would affect residential property in the RR1 (residential recreational) and R2 districts as well as the forestry districts where homes are allowed.
"As he said, basically, we're approving them all the time anyways," said Supervisor Nick Baker, Zoning Committee member. "I don't remember anything in all the years that I've been here that we have questioned or denied one, and it's simply we're putting a lot of extra pressure on the applicant."
Baker said he's hopeful the Zoning Committee will consider the changes at its next meeting.
"It makes it really simple for people, and we don't deal with a lot of stuff we approve anyway," Baker said.
According to Wiley, there were 27 seasonal and 48 year-round applications for permits in 2018.
"We get a lot of requests to convert those seasonals to year-round," Supervisor and Zoning Committee Chairperson Mary Lou Bergman said. She wondered if it might be prudent to eliminate the distinction altogether.
Wiley said the distinction was originally created so government services such as plowing in the winter wasn't extended to a home that would stand empty in the winter. However, that is no longer the case in Douglas County.
Construction plans are reviewed by zoning staff before permits are issued, Wiley said, adding it doesn't make sense to treat owners of a seasonal dwelling differently than someone constructing a year-round home.
After all, the uniform dwelling code requires all homes to be constructed to the same standard regardless of how many months people are living there.
"They're building the same house these days," Wiley said. He said it doesn't make sense to treat people differently because they only live in the home a few months of the year.
There is a fee of $125 for people to come before the Zoning Committee. Wiley estimated eliminating the conditional use permit on seasonals would reduce county revenue by about $3,000 annually.
"We're trying to make it easier for the public and that is our concern," Baker said. He said the lost revenue is a lesser concern.
Wiley said the county will notify the towns of the possible changes, to give them the opportunity to weigh-in. A majority of towns would have to approve the changes before the Zoning Committee considers the changes, he said.
The proposed changes are expected to go the Zoning Committee for consideration in March.