After touring the A-frame and speaking with Shaun a little more, we were convinced that it was at least worth taking a look at land and potentially building. We set up a new Zillow alert and started paying attention to both built homes on the market as well as vacant land.
From what I understand, Summit County’s zoning laws have evolved over time to try and push development into the valleys and keep it there. Once upon a time I investigated the feasibility of buying an old mining claim and building a backcountry hut there. Not such an easy thing to do.
The county’s development history also means that vacant land that isn’t owned by a single developer is largely clustered into a few areas. Mesa Cortina, near Wildernest, is one. The other is down by Blue River. Then there are a few vacant lots left in the Summit Cove and Whispering Pines, and others scattered around Frisco, Keystone, and a few of the golf courses. But that’s about it, at least in terms of land that was in our price range (in other words, land that was cheap enough to allow for a reasonable build-out budget, which capped things out at about $300,000 for land alone).
One major consideration is water and septic. The major towns all have municipal sewer and water, but get far enough out of any of the municipalities and you’re own your own for sewer and water, which means drilling a well and setting up a septic leach field. From what I understand, drilling a well in the Rocky Mountains is no easy task. For one, they’re… well… rocky. And punching a hole through granite is a lot harder than digging through topsoil. The water table can also be deep underground. One couple we know had to use dynamite to blow out enough rock so they could set up the septic field alone. And as you might expect, none of this is cheap. So, as you might expect, lots with municipal sewer and water in the nearby road or on the lot line sell for a premium compared to similar lots without those utilities.
We put together lists of both houses and lots that looked good, at least on paper. As with the houses, we were able to find some lots that looked like they were in the ballpark. But internet scouting only gets you so far. It was time to see what things looked like on the ground.