Modern day homesteaders seeking an off-the-grid lifestyle in one of Colorado’s most rural areas have triggered what they moved there to avoid: a battle with the county government over land-use regulations.
Some off-grid residents accuse county officials of harassment and trying to run them out.
The battle turned a routine county commissioners’ meeting in San Louis, Colorado, into an ugly shouting match between sheriff deputies and off-gridhomesteaders, Colorado Public Radio (CPR) reported. A YouTube video supplied to CPR shows deputies arresting off-grid demonstrators for chanting about the Constitution.
Located on the New Mexico border in the south-central part of the state, Costilla County is considered the oldest and ninth-least populated county in Colorado. In recent years it has seen an influx of mostly young and lower-income families seeking an off-the-grid lifestyle.
The newly proposed code would require a well, septic tank, and electricity to be installed in a home prior to receiving a building permit, CPR reported. That would require many off-gridders to leave, because water is scarce.
“We’ve been regulated out of life,” resident Robin Rutan told CPR. “I came here because I couldn’t live by the codes [in other regions]”
Many of the newcomers are veterans who want to get away from the city. Others simply cannot afford the high prices for land and homes in other, more fashionable parts of Colorado such as the Central Rockies. The situation is explosive because around 800 new residents have moved into a county that has a population of around 3,700, The Denver Post reported.
“People who come out here have already been through a lot,” resident Chloe Everhart told CPR. “For a lot of us, there’s not much of a home to go back to. … What’s next could be under a bridge in Denver.”
A combination of cheap land, lack of zoning regulations, scenery and solitude is luring the modern day homesteaders to the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado. Sundance Stadler, a newcomer from Vermont, told The Post that he had paid $3,250 for five acres in Costilla County.
Is Camping on One’s Own Land Now Illegal?
One contentious issue is camping permits which are now required in the county. Many of the homesteaders are camping out while they build permanent homes, but the county has stopped issuing camping permits which makes it illegal for residents to camp on their own property.
“A lot of time we find families living in run-down sheds or in RVs, or some actually in tents,” Matthew Valdez, Costilla County’s land-use administrator, told The Post. “We tell them they cannot live in these conditions. A lot of them abandon their RVs here and they get vandalized, and after a while they become a trash issue.”
Water is one of the divisive issues because its supply is limited in the San Luis Valley. Most of the water rights are in the hands of farmers who have lived in the area for generations. Some off-gridders go to town (such as to a public facility) to fill up water containers.
Other issues include the effects on the schools and services. Costilla County’s chief administrative officer, Ben Doon, said that around 58 new students have enrolled in the local schools – a big increase for a small county.
“The vast majority is from people out there,” Doon told CPR, referring to the off-grid residents.
The conflict in Costilla County is not going to end anytime soon. There are around 40,000 subdivided lots in Costilla County — some which are being sold on the Internet to newcomers for a few thousand dollars.
“When you buy the land they make you think you can do anything with it,” said Rutan, who told CPR that she and her husband moved to the area because they no longer could afford to live in Glenwood Springs.