May 10, 2024

Estes tries onsite RVs as workforce-housing option

ESTES PARK — Desperate to address its continuing need to provide workforce housing during the busy tourist season, Estes Park has adopted a one-year experiment: a pilot program to allow qualified employees to utilize recreational vehicles as temporary dwelling units at their place of employment.

According to Paul Hornbeck, the town’s senior planner, the town’s approval of the VBASE program — the acronym stands for Vehicle-Based Accommodation for Seasonal Employment  — offers seasonal workers an alternative to traditional housing and provides local businesses an additional tool to help meet staffing needs.

“This initiative reflects the town’s commitment to supporting our local workforce and addressing their housing challenges,” Hornbeck said in a prepared statement. “Through this one-year pilot program, we are offering a flexible solution that aligns with the needs of our community.”


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The program has its limits, and a permit is required. It’s only available within town limits, and each business can have only one VBASE unit on its property. There also must be access to water, electricity, and restrooms.

The program began May 1 and will end Oct. 31.

Workers are prohibited from operating businesses out of the units, which can’t be located within required setbacks, extended boundaries of a crosswalk, or 10 feet of the primary building entrance or doorway. Units can’t be placed in a location that could impede or visually obstruct vehicular and pedestrian traffic, parking-lot circulation, required parking spaces, fire lanes, or access to any public street, alley or sidewalk.

The occupant of such a unit must be employed for a minimum of 30 hours per week on the same site as the owner’s property or on another site owned by the owner or the owner’s affiliate. Each unit can hold no more than three adults older than 18 and can total no more than six people.

Interested businesses can find more information and apply for a permit at

The daunting need for seasonal workforce housing and related child care has been an ongoing challenge for the mountain town at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. It led voters in 2022 to increase the lodging tax that visitors pay at hotels and vacation-home rentals to help fund those efforts. The ballot issue raised the lodging tax from 2% to 5.5%, allocating the additional 3.5% – revenue estimated to be around $5.25 million — to fund workforce housing and child-care initiatives. The extra percentage is added to the nightly rate Estes Park visitors pay to stay at hotels, motels, guest houses and short-term rentals.

Several tourist-dependent towns in Colorado have passed such initiatives, which were permitted earlier in 2022 when the Colorado Legislature passed and Gov. Jared Polis signed the bipartisan House Bill 1117, which allowed counties and local marketing districts such as Visit Estes Park that have levied voter-approved lodging taxes — previously allowed only to pay for advertising and marketing — to ask voters for extra money to spend on housing and child care for the tourism workforce or on “enhancing the visitor experience”  through items such as improving outdoor-recreation facilities. Voter approval was necessary under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and at least 10% of the generated revenue must be spent on marketing and advertising for the tourism industry.

Estes Park also has looked for sites within its mountain-constricted limits to place workforce housing developments. The most prominent initiative was the rezoning of a parcel off of Fish Hatchery Road on the south bank of the Fall River from accommodations to multifamily residential zoning so that up to 180 units of housing could be built.

Estes Park has adopted a pilot program to allow qualified employees to utilize recreational vehicles as temporary dwelling units at their workplace.

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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