Big-time glamping comes to Paradise Valley, which has no regulations governing this – or any other type – of rural commercial development.
Glamping is a new word that combines “glamor” with “camping” to describe a new form of luxury outdoor tourism.
Although you may be staying in a tent, your floor will be tidy wood planks instead of bumpy nylon. Instead of boiling water to rehydrate your dinner in a foil packet, you will sit down to a gourmet meal. Rather than walking into the woods with a plastic spade to do your business, you will enjoy the familiar comforts of a porcelain throne.
Some glamping developments have already been built in the County, like the domes visible to the west of Highway 89 and the tiny homes near Pray. But glamping development is ramping up in Park County in a big way with the opening of a new 75site development by Under Canvas which operates glamping facilities across the West.
The Under Canvas website describes it as: “Ideally located near the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, just 20 minutes from the charming town of Livingston and 45 minutes from Bozeman, MT, [with] more than a mile of pristine riverfront access along the Yellowstone River, allowing for world-class fly fishing on-site and river float experiences steps from the lobby tent.”
You can read the complete description of the North Yellowstone Under Canvas development here.
The “rooms” may be tents or tipis, but in terms of traffic, water and sewage, the impacts (during the summer and fall when it is open) may not be much different from a 75-room motel.
The impacts on wildlife are likely to be greater than a hotel because of its rural location.
The County’s land use review and public hearing for the Under Canvas glamping development: What review?! What hearing?!
A recent article in Mountain Journal described a controversy in neighboring Gallatin County over a 16-acre “glampground” with 58 campsites on a river in the Gallatin River. On April 8, 2022, the Gallatin County Commission held a six and one-half hour public hearing on the flood plain permit application, a permit which was required by the County’s floodplain regulations. “The permit was issued after the Gallatin County Commission received 335 public comments, mostly in opposition to the project, including a petition with 1,062 signatures…” The permit is now in litigation.
The area of the Gallatin County glampground proposal, like most of Park County, was not subject to any zoning regulations. However, a public hearing was required because the project was proposed within the area subject to Gallatin County’s floodplain hazard management regulations.
So, what kind of review and public hearing did the Park County glamping project undergo to evaluate and mitigate its impacts? What kind of public hearing was held to gather information and perspectives from nearby residents and people with expertise in water, wildlife, to consider infrastructure and other impacts?
The answer is, none.
There are no land use regulations in Park County that require any opportunity for the public to offer their comments on a development like this and according to DEQ the area is outside the Yellowstone floodplain.
All that was required to develop this 75-unit tourist destination were state construction permits and water and sanitation permits from the Park County Sanitarian, which under law, are issued without public notice or public review.
We need zoning to regulate commercial development in Park County.
Friends of Park County believes major commercial uses, like 75-unit hotels or glamping facilities should be allowed only in areas zoned for commercial use, in existing communities, that have water and sewer systems. Commercial developments should not be allowed in random locations across the valleys of Park County.
That’s also what the voters believe.
Park County Environmental Council’s 2022 scientific opinion survey asked Park County voters:
Do you support “stronger requirements for where new commercial developments – like gas stations and music venues – would be allowed.”
Commercial zoning regulations should not only specify where commercial development may be built, they should also include opportunities for community comment, have clear and objective review criteria that helps the applicant and concerned residents understand whether a proposed development should be approved, approved but subject to conditions, or rejected because of impacts on neighbors, surrounding communities, and natural resources.
Clear and objective criteria are needed assure fairness to all parties and to achieve the purposes of regulations. Friends of Park County offered suggestions for how this key omission could be remedied in the County’s draft Conflict Mitigation Regulations.
Commercial zoning also often includes standards to limit impacts from the operations of the development. And it wouldn’t hurt if the County has a lodging tax it could use to finance affordable housing and open space conservation.
Will there be more to come? And if so, what needs to be done to prepare?
Given the splendor of Park County, the proximity to the country’s most famous National Park and the high returns from glamping facilities, (the tents in the Under Canvas development in Paradise Valley rent out for $500/night) it would not be surprising if there were to be many more copycat developments (some probably of lower quality) built in the County.
Sensible regulations about where commercial uses like this one should be located and to establish standards to avoid unnecessary impacts on neighboring homes, farms and ranches, and on roads, water and wildlife will never be adopted until your County Commissioners believe the public supports these regulations.
Right now our County Commissioners hear mostly from the “no zoning” perspective, which scientific surveys show is a minority view among Park County voters. If you think we need sensible regulations of commercial development, your County Commissioner needs to hear from you.
This page on the County’s website provides telephone numbers and offers a link for email communication. Please be courteous and respectful in your communications with our public servants.
Friends of Park County will be monitoring the development and impacts from the project.