Routt County Skyline Regulations

Having amazing views outside your window is a significant factor people consider when buying or building homes in the mountains. Likewise, no one wants a new neighbor to build a mansion on the top of a mountain or hill in their view corridor. The natural contour of hills and mountains is interrupted by new homes and can impact the views of other landowners and recreationists. Routt County residents were tired of this happening; therefore, in 2002, the county Skyline Development Guidelines were implemented. 

This year I had a property under contract, but one of the conditions of closing was that the buyer wanted to be able to move the building envelope to a more scenic location. The buyer decided a ridge on the parcel with views of the flattops was the ideal building site. However, before she closed on the property, we wanted to ensure the building site would conform with all county regulations, leading us to the county’s skyline regulations. 

What does it mean for a home to be skylined?

According to the Routt County Skyline Development Regulations, if a structure rises above the ridgeline and creates a silhouette against the sky, it would be considered “skylined.” According to the regulations, a building can not be more than 15 feet above the skyline when viewed from county roads within a quarter-mile to three-mile radius. 

Who has to conform to the skyline regulations?

The skyline regulations do not affect the entire county. The section of the county that must conform to the skyline regulations is known as the “skyline applicability area”. The area encompasses Hahn’s Peak, Steamboat Lake, Clark, Willow Creek Pass, Steamboat Springs, Pleasant Valley, Catamount, and Stagecoach. Some areas that are not included in the skyline applicability area are Milner, Hayden, Oak Creek, Phippsburg, Yampa, and Taponas. The map below shows the section of Routt County that the skyline development guidelines affect. 

What does this mean for the landowner who wants to build their dream home with the best views possible?

Before choosing a place to build, a landowner should check to see if your property falls within the skyline applicability area; if it does not, they do not have to conform to the county skyline regulations. Suppose the property is within the skyline applicability area. In that case, you then have to make sure you are not going to build in a location that would skyline your building, and this could impact the particular views they are trying to achieve from the home. 

What does it mean if my property is located within the skyline applicability area?

The county was proactive when they developed this map and did their best to determine all the skylined areas. These areas are shown in red on the map. Improvements built on a property in any non-red area are allowed as the improvement should not be skylined and would not have to conform to skyline regulations. Any improvements built after 2002, in a red area, are likely to be skylined and have to conform with the guidelines set in place by the county. It is common for most to avoid building their home on a skyline. However, if a property owner decides to build in a skyline location, a balloon test must be performed before a building permit can be issued.

What is the balloon test?

The balloon test is conducted by the county planning department to determine if an improvement at a particular location would be skylined. The regulations allow a building to be skylined up to 15 feet. Below is a summary of the balloon test.

1. The location of the lowest point of the potential structure is identified.

2. A 35-foot temporary structure will be placed on this point.

3. A group of brightly colored balloons is placed at the top of the temporary structure. Since 15 feet of the proposed structure is allowed to be skylined, another group of brightly colored balloons is placed 15 feet below the top group of balloons.

4. Planning staff will be on-site to ensure that enough brightly colored balloons are used and placed at the proper height.

5. Once the balloons and height are confirmed, staff will drive the applicable roads within the quarter-mile to three-mile radius of the structure. If the bottom set of balloons (ones located 15 feet below the top set) are backdropped by the sky from any applicable roads for a cumulative distance of one mile, then the proposed structure is skylined. If this is the case, the structure height must be reduced until the bottom set of balloons are not visible, and mitigation measures will be encouraged if the upper balloons are still visible. 

What are mitigation measures?

If the allowed 15 feet of a building is skylined, the county encourages the landowner to soften the appearance of the building on the skyline. Besides the apparent suggestion of making the building shorter or smaller, they have a few other recommendations. For example, use colors and finishes that blend the structure with the surrounding landscape, try incorporating the roofline with other natural features such as rock formations or tree lines, or use vegetation to break up or hide the structure.

Anything else?

When looking to purchase land in Routt County, make sure to ask your agent about the skyline regulations and if it something you need to consider at a particular property.

Written by Hallie Myhre. Information received from Routt County development guidelines.