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Carbondale tackles occupancy issue

Gina Guarascio
Carbondale correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE ” A new ordinance governing residential occupancy ” specifically, overcrowding ” won approval from Carbondale trustees Tuesday after several years of discussion.

The issue was highlighted on national TV last fall when NBC aired the immigration special “In the Shadow of the American Dream.” The show featured a “family” of 18 people living in one home in Carbondale.

The occupancy ordinance will give the town the tools it needs to address the impacts related to so many people living in one space. The most common impacts are excessive trash, parking constraints and noise.



Enforcement of the ordinance could be difficult, trustees admitted. But having something on the books gives the police and the building inspector the ability to try to educate people, and if problems persist, to do something about it.

Growth pressures combined with the high cost of living in the area has created an unpleasant reality in some neighborhoods where 18 people living in one house may not be that uncommon. Citizen concerns over the impacts of overcrowding prompted the town to tackle the tricky issue.




It’s tricky because the town is getting involved in a fairly personal issue: what defines a family. The family unit is protected by federal law. The nuclear family of the past ” one mom, one dad and 1.5 kids ” is probably less common than other arrangements found within the town today.

Community Development Director Doug Dotson, the Carbondale Planning and Zoning Commission and town attorney Mark Hamilton labored over details of the ordinance to make sure it wasn’t infringing on people’s rights.

Hamilton said the definition of family has been expanded and is more modern to accommodate different situations ” including large extended families living together, which is common among the area’s growing Latino population.

The biggest problem the town is trying to avoid is what Hamilton calls “man camps,” or a large numbers of unrelated people living together. To address it, the ordinance specifies no more than four unrelated people can live together.

This, too, could be evaluated on a case-by-case basis when there is enough habitable space for more than four people, Hamilton said. The ordinance states there should be a minimum of 200 square feet of habitable space for the first occupant and 150 square feet of habitable space for successive occupants. Things like closets, garages, attics and bathrooms are not considered habitable space.

Throughout the lengthy discussion of occupancy, the trustees have said they don’t want to become “bedroom police.” But now the town will now have the tools to address impacts of occupancy if there are complaints.

“This is a good place to start,” said Dotson. “It’s really about educating people. It’s not about giving a bunch of tickets. If the problems persist (in a certain situation) then we’ll think about fines.”

The occupancy ordinance addresses the proper containment of trash, the use of the public right of way for storage and parking, disabled vehicles, recreational vehicles and even idling vehicles. The ordinance was amended to ban idling vehicles Tuesday night, although it does allow idling for up to 10 minutes on a cold start. It was also amended to allow properly maintained compost piles.

The ordinance will take effect in 30 days. Dotson said the town will begin to identify properties next week, by visual inspection from the street, that could be in violation of the ordinance. Once the ordinance goes into effect, those property owners or residents will be notified of potential violations and given the opportunity to make corrections.

If corrections are not made, the town will take action to protect the quality and character of the neighborhoods while also protecting the health, safety and welfare of citizens, which is the goal of the ordinance.


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