Originally published November 23, 2023
The Town of Silver Cliff will soon be saying goodbye to a man who is practically an institution all by himself, Building and Zoning Official Roger Camper. He will be officially retiring as of November 30 and eventually moving full-time to Greeley with his wife Pam after a career in Custer County that spans contracting, sawyering and public service as an EMT, firefighter, and Silver Cliff Trustee, as well as building inspection. To mark the occasion, the Tribune sat down with Camper for a conversation earlier this month.
“I came to town administration in 2010,” Camper said of his current position: “No one was doing building inspections, and I was a licensed contractor. I was on the town board myself in 1976, after I got out of the service in 1971, and got married in 1972. I was head sawyer at the [W.R. Canda Timer Products] timber yard till 1985. I was a civil engineer in the military and got to contracting when I got back here.
“[The town] couldn’t find anyone to do the building inspector position – the pay was minimal, the inspectors didn’t really know what they were doing. You have to sell the town! Contractors were hesitant to have me on the job site for about six months until they realized that my interest was in helping them, not busting them.
“Ace Hardware called to have me work part-time [while I was contracting], then [former Silver Cliff mayor] Larry Weber called and said that we could have someone come in two days per week for the inspector position, then four days per week, and then full-time. I was still running a partial crew till 2012 or so – and then I gave my contracting business to my supervisor.”
Asked about his accomplishments in his position since 2010, Camper said: “The main thing I wanted to see happen was [enforcement of building codes] – the town had codes but didn’t have anyone who was qualified to do the correct inspections to make sure that things were to code in town. We would see a lot of people coming into Silver Cliff from out of town and then do half a job and then be gone. I wanted to stop that.
“I got the building permit process beefed up – put the word out that we were building to code, so get your permit! So, we would have people sneaking in and then out. I would start driving around town to see what was going on, the building permits applied for now pay for this position. Every other permit is above and beyond and goes into the general fund.
“Then residents were saying that the town looked like a pit – so Larry Weber said, ‘We are going to get a Pride Code going.’ He picked people out of the audience at a public meeting to form a committee – old timers and new timers and owners and renters. We had a sample pride code – the international property maintenance code, but we wanted to concentrate on exteriors only – get the outsides of the town properties looking sharp.”
Camper said that the effort at establishing, let alone enforcing, the Pride Code was initially fraught: “Some of the meetings got very hot! Sometimes, I was worried we were going to have to call the cops. Kathy Taylor ran the meetings. It took us one and a half years to get the document done. We got the ordinance passed and then gave people two years to fix things up. We went door to door to get people to clean up – this was around 2011-12.”
In the years just prior to 2020, Camper was presiding over a number of housing developments within the town limits and then came the two things that brought development to a screeching halt: the COVID pandemic and the moratorium on new water and sewer taps imposed by Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District (RMWSD). Camper spoke to the development that has been happening since: “The Fox Run development is happening – that’s 36 lots set for single-family houses. Greg Quinoes is developing a set of duplexes that will be rentals only.”
Meanwhile, the issue of workforce housing has come to the fore as an urgent need for the county, with Silver Cliff being poised to take the lead in terms of meeting the demand when RMWSD lifts the tap moratorium as of January 1: “Round Mountain has to be ready for up to 1,000 units on both sides of Chloride Gulch.” Camper noted that among the obstacles facing workforce housing starts was the sheer expense of building materials: “When I started, turnkey housing was $150 per square foot – now it’s $395 per square foot for starter homes.
“We’re working hard right now with the attainable housing board to get them developing the properties the county owns in Silver Cliff, as well as the town Planning Commission (PC).” Density is one of the keys to building workforce housing affordably for both developers and residents: Camper acceded to the notion that some of the town’s lots would need to be re-zoned to allow for higher-density housing, such as apartment buildings, provided that they can be “built with a design – we think about the look that would fit in with what’s already here.”
“What are your proudest achievements?” we asked. “I’m so glad we cleaned up the building permit process and did the Pride Code,” Camper replied: “We’re not all the way there yet, but we are talking to every individual out there, and sometimes we have to go help them, and that’s good for the town.
“And I like the museum refurbishing and the new pavilion behind it – it’s not done yet either! We got a new curator hired at the museum, and we are going to make it bigger and better. We have a pickleball court, and our park is growing leaps and bounds, with new amenities and plans for upgrades. We built the commemorative park, and the new electric vehicle charging stations will be ready by January.”
Asked about plans for Silver Cliff’s future growth and development, Camper said, “The [proposed] Town Plaza – just got started working on that again last Thursday. The town doesn’t have money to purchase the property yet, so we are going to put out a notification. The Town of Silver Cliff wants to construct a Town Plaza – any developer who wants to be a part of that, contact us, then have a workshop.”
One thing Camper was firm about was the need for new businesses: “We have to get retail or this town will die.” Camper identified the lack of retail businesses as one of the biggest obstacles to growth outside the availability of water. “The concept for the plaza is to have main floor retail and upper story living – we need an open minded B and Z official and PC. I want to keep pushing the mayor [Buck Wenzel] to make the plaza happen – we have time now to start thinking outside the box.” Camper was lavish with praise for Wenzel, who also serves as Chairman for the Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments (UAACOG), and UAACOG’s Regional Housing Director, Max Hanson: “he is awesome – energetic, doesn’t care how hard the work is, got a brain.”
“It’s a scary transition into the next phase of life,” Camper concluded: “I’ve worked since I was six years old – now I’m not going to be doing that – I’m kind of panicking.” Although it’s not as if Camper hasn’t tried retirement before: “I’ve had people calling me and asking me, ‘When are you retiring this time?’”
Of his successor, he noted, “Isaac Selden is going to be stepping into this [Building and Zoning] position. He has the right attitude – this job is all about attitude. I am here to make sure that you are here to do the best job you can – and now [the builders] all know that – I’d rather help them figure out how to help them. That’s what this place (Silver Cliff) is about – attitude and teamwork.”
And as part of that attitude and teamwork, Camper offered this: “I’ve had people say, ‘how are we going to find the lot pins when you’re gone?’ and I’ve told them, ‘I’m a phone call away.’”
– Elliot Jackson