Second homeowners ask what’s acceptable during stay at home order
While Colorado’s stay at home order makes it clear nonessential travel is forbidden, many people with properties in Grand County are trying to navigate the gray areas in some of the order’s language.
County officials have pointed to limited health care resources as the main reason to keep second homeowners away. With more than half the housing units in Grand belonging to second homeowners, according to a 2018 assessment, an increase in population could strain resources.
While counties like Gunnison have passed aggressive policies banning nonresidents, including second homeowners, from traveling to the county, the Grand County Commissioners have only asked visitors to follow the governor’s public health order and avoid unnecessary travel.
“We will not prevent owners from occupying their properties, but we are asking them to exercise smart judgment,” the commissioners said in an open letter last week.
For Michelle Wiesner, who lives in Denver and owns a condo near Granby Ranch, the order meant she should stay in Denver. She and her husband come up to Granby most weekends, but since the coronavirus pandemic, she said they have been staying home as directed.
Their situation highlights the property owners in Grand who aren’t full-time but still feel like a part of the community.
“We really do split our time and live there,” Wiesner said. “We would otherwise be doing that, but I do believe that would be an irresponsible thing to do right now.”
But as the time between visits lengthens, her concern for her property has grown. She doesn’t have anyone to monitor her property and wants to check on her condo to make sure there haven’t been any leaks or break-ins.
Schelly Olson, spokesperson for the Grand County COVID-19 team, outlined what responsible recreation looks in the time of coronavirus pandemic.
- Stay in your own county. “You have to do it for the safety of others,” Olson said. “By coming to the county, you are sending a huge message that your recreation and relaxation is more important than people’s health and safety.”
- Don’t engage in high-risk activities. Activities like snowmobiling, skiing and climbing put you at risk for injury and diverting health resources away from the pandemic. Walking your dog, walking around your neighborhood, running or biking are preferred activities during this time, Olson said.
- Avoid crowded trails. If you go to hike and seeing a full trailhead, the best thing to do is go home. “The trail is going to be there when it’s over,” Olson said.
- Boat with your household. As lakes defrost, boating is another recreation activity that provides ample isolation, but Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials are encouraging boating only in local areas. Beyond that, only go boating with the people who are currently living with you.
“We do need to, at least on a monthly basis, come check on this place,” Wiesner said. “There are responsibilities when you own a place to make sure that things are okay from time to time.”
County officials might understand these responsibilities, but emphasize that the stay at home order makes it illegal to travel to or within the county unless it is for necessary activities, business or services. This means delaying any visits to second homes, including to check on them, said Schelly Olson of the county’s COVID-19 response team.
“Please do not come here,” Olson said. “Wait until this is over. The stay at home order means stay at home.”
In the response team’s April 7 update, officials said local US Post Offices were concerned over an increase in applications for new boxes, most of which were seemingly coming from second home owners. Officials implored second homeowners to not use the mountains as a safe haven and to protect the community by staying away.
Olson pointed out that Grand is not the only resort community wrangling with the governor’s stay at home order, policies to promote public safety and the rights of second homeowners, and that it is an issue many places in the country are dealing with.
“Folks will say, ‘That’s my home,’” Olson said. “But you should stay at your primary residence, and don’t travel between counties or states.”
While enforcement of the executive order has varied, law enforcement in Grand County has expressed a desire that community members willingly follow the order. In an open letter soon after the public health order went into place, representatives of the county’s law enforcement agencies said they would not take a “heavy-handed, zero tolerance” approach to enforcing the order.
“Instead, our desire is to generate voluntary compliance with the law through education and collaboration first, and enforcement for only those who are endangering the lives of others through their unwillingness to comply,” the law enforce agencies said.
Since enforcement seems to be for only the worst offenses, county officials did give advice to second homeowners who choose to come to the county anyway.
“Second homeowners who do ultimately choose to stay in their second homes should limit their impact on local resources by limiting their interactions and bringing their own groceries and supplies,” county officials added.
Wiesner argued that simply checking on her property wouldn’t harm the community and that she would act to limit any exposure to locals.
“We don’t have to go to the store. We don’t have to interact with people,” Wiesner said. “It’s not like I can’t go check on this place and put other people at risk … I can do that because there’s really nobody there. I can maintain six feet and be able to do what I need to do there.”
It remains unclear how long the order may go on, but Wiesner said she would limit visits to check on her property as much as possible. While the county discourages it, she sees a small number of visits as necessary.
“There’s a balance between being responsible and following the law to not put anyone at risk, but we also have a responsibility to make sure this place is okay in an extended absence,” Wiesner added.
While the county won’t be blocking any roads, officials continue to discourage any non-essential travelers from coming into Grand.
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