Op-Ed: Community Torn over Zoning, Code Changes

By John Spounias

Costilla county is typically a quiet place. The county seat, San Luis is the oldest town in Colorado and home to one of the last commons in the United States. Small and isolated it is often a tourist stop for people interested in Colorado history or one of the many natural wonders of the San Luis Valley. Two weeks ago this sleepy country village was torn asunder by recent proposed changes to the land use code. Two meetings for these proposed codes, a board of advisors public forum on Sept. 9th and than a county commissioner meeting on the 15th had more turnout than typical, with the meeting on the 15th eventually being broken up by the local authorities and one man arrested.

Many people want to build a future in Costilla county and there is a lot of cheap, available land because of the many sub-divisions. Being one of very few counties in the nation in which alternative building techniques such as adobe and straw bail are welcomed as well as its previous tolerance of off-grid living in RVs via extended camping permits, it has brought a unique blend of talented people into one place. This may all change if the proposed zoning and code changes go into effect. The changes include the removal of ‘extended camping permits’ which allow someone to live in their RV on their own property without any other improvements to the land. This impacts many people who are currently living in their RVs and anyone who is interested in building anything other than a residence. These changes seem to be supported by long time residents who see the people living in their RVs as a deficit on the community.

This tragic turn of events is still playing out and there is a lot of ferment and discussion. One of the places this discussion is taking place is Facebook. A group known as San Luis Valley Just Us has been created so long time residents and people who recently moved to the area can come together and pontificate.