With the recent influx in population and construction, many new landowners have been coming to Cody and starting work before applying for permits.
Joy Hill, Park County planning and zoning director, wants the public to know that building and other construction-related permits need to be applied for before, not after
“They come here and they don’t know our permitting requirements,” she said.
Hill said this trend has become a noticeable problem in the county with houses and additions springing up like weeds, surprising her department without any prior warning.
Over the last four years, there has been an uptick in permits applied for and granted in the county. Hill tracks these numbers in a computer database known as a “buzz.”
“We can see our month-to-month trends of what we’ve got going on,” she said.
Although this trend was sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic and events of social unrest occurring throughout the country last summer, Hill said she doesn’t expect this trend to end anytime soon
Realtor.com’s Market Hotness rankings for 2020 showed a national trend of people buying homes in smaller cities.
“There’ll be a surge and then it will kind of steady a little bit. But right now I’d say we’re in the surge,” she said.
Before engaging any significant building project, Hill recommends contacting the P&Z office to inquire about necessary permits.
“Whether it’s a shed, a lean-to, it all requires a permit,” she said.
Any time floor area is increased on a property, a permit is required. When the desired use of a structure changes, a permit is needed for that as well. Converting a house to a business or running a business out of a house? also requires permits.
The department will issue fines for violations and litigation will take place if those infractions are disputed.
Hill added that some people don’t realize the difference between a municipality and county, and how property is managed differently between those two governmental entities.
Unlike the City of Cody, the county has no building codes.
Hill said there has been some public demand for these, but the county commissioners are firmly against making this move.
“For the county to take on building code restrictions and inspections would be an enormous cost to the county,” Hill said. “We could go to inspect one home and it would take us an hour and a half just to get to the house to do one inspection.
“We do understand that standards for building are important, we just don’t have the means to enforce it.”
The county does perform wastewater inspections.
In March, Park County was already about 10% ahead of last year’s numbers for building permits when compared to this date last year, a year with increased permitting when compared to 2018.
Sean Collier, a six-year building official for the City of Cody, said he has seen a similar uptick in overall building and permitting, with last year being the second biggest he has seen. He said although the City has not seen an increase in lack of preparedness from applicants as the county has, it has seen an increase in applicants looking to expedite the building process.
“A lot of people are trying to rush through the process,” he said, “thinking they’re going to gut a building and then open in another month.”
Hill said many new residents have been buying property sight unseen or are paying with 100% cash, which eliminates the presence of some protections that inform buyers of legal access rights. She said, then, when they come into her office looking to build on the property, they are often surprised about what is and what is not allowed in a particular zoning district.
Easements and water rights can be complicated, along with irrigation sources and how they impact an entire neighborhood.
She said many buyers dump tens of thousands of dollars into investments for their land before realizing those sums will reach into the hundreds of thousands before they get what they want out of their property.
“They come and suddenly they try to drill a well and there’s no water, and now they have to operate by a cistern and they’re not used to that concept,” Hill said.
Subdivision permits have shown some of the most substantial growth, as the number granted this year alone makes up 56% of what was granted in the previous five years combined.
“And we’re not even through the fiscal year yet,” Hill said.
Hill attributes this trend to people spying financial opportunity in the booming real estate market.
“There’s obviously a need or demand for more lots,” she said. “So people are looking for opportunities to make more lots at a time. It’s not just the local, ‘I want to support it for my family or I just want to sell my farm next to me.’ We’re doing it as an investment now.”
Similarly, many people are also moving to rural Park County with hopes of running a micro or hobby farm, also a national trend with the number of small farms and organic growers increasing in recent years.
“They’re thinking, ‘What can I do with this ground to make money?’” Hill said.
Powell resident Laura Harshman had to go through the simple subdivision process in order split her 53-acre property in half, upon which a new house will be built that her sister will live out of in the future. Although she said the building permit process for their own home was easy to navigate, she said the simple subdivision application was much more convoluted. She said she had to hire an engineer to help her complete all the necessary paperwork and testing.
“I don’t think I would have been able to do it on my own unless I had a lot of free time on my hands,” she said. “I wish they would compile the process for the average layperson.”