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Lake County Building and Land Use is developing a backcountry zoning ordinance that Director Paul Clarkson called the single largest zoning project his department has undertaken.

The ordinance, which has been in the works for about ten years, would impact roughly 1,500 Lake County property owners and is intended to prevent large-home development in local areas deemed “backcountry.” In an effort to address unpermitted building in the backcountry, the zoning change would also allow property owners to erect primitive cabins on secluded land.

“There is a growing market for building in Lake County,” said Clarkson. “And that’s something local government can’t ignore. But we need to have some degree of control over what can be built and how building is done. Otherwise, there could be lasting impacts on Lake County’s backcountry.”

A few years ago, when development in Lake County began to ramp up, Lake County Building and Land Use (LCBLU) set out to identify Lake County’s backcountry areas, which are marked by hundreds of adjacent and overlapping mining claims that sit on roughly ten-acre parcels near areas like Sugarloaf Mountain or Turquoise Lake. Around the same time, the department discovered that some property owners who had purchased a claim were building unpermitted cabins on the forested lots.

To address the illegal building, LCBLU is planning to allow primitive structures under the backcountry zoning ordinance. Property owners would still need a permit to build a cabin, but the zoning change imposes significantly fewer restrictions on cabins than it does on residential structures. For example, cabins are subject to lax foundation, insulation, lighting and heating regulations because they are not intended for long-term dwelling purposes.

Under the proposed backcountry zoning ordinance, cabin-builders would not be permitted to build structures greater than 600 square feet, or install sewage systems and running water. In addition, owners could access their cabin for only 180 days a year in 30-day intervals. The old mining roads used to access the cabins are intended to remain as primitive as possible, although Clarkson said some stretches of road may require initial maintenance.

LCBLU plans to require only two inspections during the cabin-building process, as opposed to residential homes, which require up to 20 inspections. Should the zoning change take root, Clarkson said there may be a chance to legitimize already existing cabins in the backcountry that were built without permits.

For property owners looking to build a residential home in the backcountry, the zoning change would require that the owner work with an inspector who is approved by LCBLU. Clarkson said a maximum size requirement would also take effect, but that LCBLU has not yet determined a specific figure. In general, the ordinance discourages large-home building in the backcountry by mandating sewage, water and access for all homes, a costly condition that Clarkson said is nearly impossible to engineer.

“We feel pressured to get this in place,” said Clarkson, who added that LCBLU is aiming to implement the zoning change by late January so that property owners can take advantage of the ordinance next summer. Currently, LCBLU and the Lake County Planning Commission are working on public outreach by drafting letters to the 1,500 property owners who would be impacted by the ordinance. Clarkson said LCBLU is also planning to host a public information event regarding the change before the year’s end

“I suspect that a few aspects of this change may be controversial because it affects some uses by right,” said Clarkson. “But the feedback we’ve received so far has been positive, and we think this a good compromise that will allow for responsible development.”

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