Friday, October 31, 2008

Tenting out in Bellevue

City cracks down on off-the-grid structures

Express Staff Writer

Life just got a bit more challenging for anyone hoping to live off the grid in a tipi in downtown Bellevue.

The City Council passed an ordinance change last week that prohibits the use of canvas, vinyl and similar materials in the building of walls for permanent residences in the city. These materials are often used for tipis, yurts and tents, the preferred dwellings of modern nomads.

"I received calls recently from three people asking if they can live in the city limits off the radar of Idaho Power Co. and without city sanitation services," said Bellevue Planning and Zoning Administrator Craig Eckles, who brought the issue to the City Council.

The council responded by amending a city ordinance to prohibit the use of "membrane materials" for permanent dwellings within the city. "Membrane materials" is city-planner speak for tents.

"There are a number of reasons why we shouldn't allow off-the-grid living in the city limits," said Councilman Steve Fairbrother at a City Council meeting on Thursday, Oct. 23. "It is unsanitary. It also will make nearby property values plummet. It might make sense on a 50-acre lot somewhere, but not on a 6,000-square-foot lot in the city," he said.

Bellevue Building Inspector Pat Riley said he knows of no one living unconnected to city services in the city or anyone living in a yurt or tipi in the city limits.

Bellevue City Administrator Tom Blanchard said he would like to see this kind of lifestyle made possible elsewhere, perhaps in the county, where people could use composting toilets, solar panels and other means to replace sewer services and electricity lines.

"But I can't imagine people carrying water in buckets during winter in the city," he said.

Other jurisdictions in the Wood River Valley do not explicitly prohibit yurts or other membrane structures as permanent residences, but local codes make it unlikely that they would be allowed.

Hailey building official Dave Ferguson said there is no prohibition in that city's building code against the use of membrane materials, but added, "it would be very difficult to meet the snow load, seismic load and energy code requirements."

Ketchum building inspector Dennis Keierleber said that city has never been approached by anyone seeking to live full-time in a yurt or tipi, but that similar challenges would face an applicant there.

As for tipi- and yurt-living possibilities in Blaine County, county building official Bill Dyer said he knows of no one doing so at this time.

"They will have to meet our building codes for structural integrity, snow and wind loads, and the 2006 energy code for insulation requirements," he said.

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