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I am wondering if there is a website that shows counties or areas of land in which do not have zoning laws and do not require building permits? I would rather not have to contact each and every county for which property I may be interested in. I am looking to purchase 1-5 acres to build an earth bag home on. I am open to any state. If you don't know of a website it would be greatly appreciated if you could tell me of a county or area that you know of. Thanks a bunch
 
pollinator
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Officially, most counties are going to have building departments that issue permits. Even in places with small counties (<5000 population), they may not have staff to do it, but rely on a neighboring, more populous county to do the permit review.

In my experience, out west (California and Nevada) is building permit hell. If you don't believe me, go look up the code requirements for mailboxes in some California cities. If they are going to come out with a tape measure to make sure your mailbox is up to code, not too low and not too high, you can imagine what else they will hassle you about (everything).

On the other hand, in the South (SC and GA), there is so much anti-gubmint feeling, that building departments are very circumspect. When I went to build a garage, they told me that the permit and inspection process was optional, since it was not intended to be an inhabited structure. When they came and inspected the framing, the inspector suggested that it would be a good idea to add some hurricane clips to join the trusses to the stud walls. Again, just a suggestion, not a code requirement that had to be done before I could proceed.

If you are looking for a place where the building department will be reasonable and helpful with your outside-of-the-box ideas, try the southern states.
 
ken finch
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John Elliott wrote:Officially, most counties are going to have building departments that issue permits. Even in places with small counties (<5000 population), they may not have staff to do it, but rely on a neighboring, more populous county to do the permit review.

In my experience, out west (California and Nevada) is building permit hell. If you don't believe me, go look up the code requirements for mailboxes in some California cities. If they are going to come out with a tape measure to make sure your mailbox is up to code, not too low and not too high, you can imagine what else they will hassle you about (everything).

On the other hand, in the South (SC and GA), there is so much anti-gubmint feeling, that building departments are very circumspect. When I went to build a garage, they told me that the permit and inspection process was optional, since it was not intended to be an inhabited structure. When they came and inspected the framing, the inspector suggested that it would be a good idea to add some hurricane clips to join the trusses to the stud walls. Again, just a suggestion, not a code requirement that had to be done before I could proceed.

If you are looking for a place where the building department will be reasonable and helpful with your outside-of-the-box ideas, try the southern states.


Thanks a bunch, more specific information by other permies would be greatly appreciated. I am fully aware of the wide differences in code from state to state, county to county. I am looking for answers more closely/specific to the questions I asked in original posting.
 
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Hi Ken,

I liked John's post and advice...pretty spot on...

I will try to be more specific and direct to your query...as requested.

I am wondering if there is a website that shows counties or areas of land in which do not have zoning laws and do not require building permits?


No, there isn't that I know of. There was a few years back, but is gone, as the Code Enforcement issues is rapidly changing and updating. Many areas are getting "better" (relatively) but Code is technically everywhere from a "legal standard." There is not place in North America that does not have code and from a "litigious" perspective...it should be followed or "bettered" in the building standard to which one chooses to employ.

I would rather not have to contact each and every county for which property I may be interested in.


Actually...as a traditional/natural builder that works with many clients, students and DIYers...that is exactly what I recommend if in the "land search mode." It is the only way to get a real "feel" for what is expected and enforced...Learning code...even if not planing on following it's..."minimum standards"....is a very good thing to do if one is going to perhaps "go around" or "over" it. Remember too, there are "town specific codes" as well that must be understood and followed if one cares to build without worry of having a house or project later torn down...

I am looking to purchase 1-5 acres to build an earth bag home on. I am open to any state. If you don't know of a website it would be greatly appreciated if you could tell me of a county or area that you know of. Thanks a bunch


Again, this can literal change in a matter of weeks to months...good or bad...from one town to the next. The best thing to do is ask the specific location you are thinking about and/or talking to professional builders that may work in that modality...

Regards,

j
 
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Funny, Mendocino county has something called class k which only requires hand written plans and a final inspection. Also they are more lax since there is only one inspection.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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We have many spots in Vermont (though rapidly changing) that there aren't inspectors at all...Same as many parts of rural Maine...This does not mean that Code isn't there...It is, for better or worse, it just isn't aggressively enforced, or inspected. For "owner builders" the liability is much lower than for a architect, designer or contractor, however even a owner builder can be held liable for damages if the work they do fails and/or causes harm in some way. Unfortunately this is becoming more and more common in our litigious society...

I was sued for "emotional duress" by a "Great Aunt" of a client (the woman's niece) that slipped and sprained her ankle walking to her car. I was held liable because as the "facilitator" I should have escorted her to the car because it was raining...This world is a bit nuts...so being on the "ball" all the time is part of survival. Even if you win, it cost money and is a pain in the back side...

My advice, again, is always follow code!! If anyone chooses not to (I have many times myself)...have a great reason, backup support from other experts, solid precedent for you "varance, great blue prints and models, and solid empirical evidence with at least a 50 year history of proven success...If "concept" change doesn't have or meet that criteria...the risk elevates dramatically...
 
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I can't imagine why anyone would want to avoid International code other than some like CA can be ridiculous with their jurisdiction codes. Zoning is separate and has to do with land usage although I have seen some building codes in it in rural areas that have none(IE: no basements in flood zones).

I would suggest to anyone that is considering building/designing their own home to read code in it's entirety beforehand even if it is not enforced. 2012 IRC or 2015 for residential before one creates bodily harm or creates a law suit for themselves, or, as Jay said hire a pro that has E&O insurance. Homeowner/Architect?PE? can definitely be sued just as fast as any builder that are not Architects or Engineers for causing bodily harm or death. There is no law that excludes anyone I am aware of or I'd like to see it. Home owners, DIY's, are more at risk especially in strict code sue happy states like CA. The green movement brought more law suits for sick building we are seeing the law suits start in CA moving across the nation. Some are being paid to testify against builders and "facilitators"....I hope it does reach some so called "Green" sites that charge to give toxic building advice on the internet despite their disclaimers.

BTW: "Code Minimum" is a myth, the design criteria (span tables, design allowable s) have embedded in them a safety factor of at least 2X. That myth was derived from the IECC energy codes where people misunderstand "r-values" as beng too low and does not apply to all code.

This ICC Map shows code enforcement by state and jurisdictions one could also contact them to find out more......If the jurisdiction is not listed I would assume there is no code being enforced but of course call to verify. Most state levels have a legally binding code at that level, jurisdictions can write amendments to it or delete articles, chapters, or write their own. As Jay said that can change at anytime but, most do not spend the resources to but every 3 years which is the ICC cycle for new code (2009, 2012, 2015) ....We are in an adoption year 2015 now. They link below therefore may not be updated but can act as a guide.

In Chapter 1 of the IRC there is an "Alternate Material" path that earth bag would fall into, also some of the concrete mass wall codes apply.... if one knows code well and how to communicate it one does not have to search high and wide to avoid code, one just has to know what they are doing. Just about any answer imaginable is in code yet people come out to the internet to ask others that do not read or understand it just to 9xs out of 10 get the wrong answer, some even pay for the wrong answer. That can become much more of a challenge in the American "Sub Divisions" with covenants and (ACC) Architectural Control Committees that do not know what they are doing. I struggle with what is more wrong people with no or little knowledge designing homes DIYs, or cookie cutter covenants, or BOD (Board of Director) yahoos on the ACC, or "Green" Websites with all the wrong advice. I'd rather deal with experienced city inspectors and code or BSO (Building and Safety Office), than Yahoo ACC's or covenants any day of the week. What ever made Americans think anyone can be an Architect on a ACC is beyond reason, or design a home, there should be laws in place to prevent it but most state laws allow anyone to either follow code up to the duplex, and three stories, or hire an Engineers stamp. Keeps the lawyers busy.


http://www.iccsafe.org/about-icc/overview/international-code-adoptions/
 
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There are counties in Missouri that do not require permits to build. My husband and I are looking into Douglas County, MO. My husband has worked construction his whole life so the thought of not building to code makes him a little nervous, but he is happy not to have to pay for permits and deal with inspectors who either barely look at your work, or are overly critical of whatever you do (he has dealt with both).
Hope this helps! Good luck!
 
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Location: Family farm in Mid-MO & Apt windowsill
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I second the Missouri recommendation. I know some Amish in Audrain County and they tell me there's no code thereabouts. In fact, you might want to look at any areas that have old order Amish as the more conservative groups prefer to build without permits, on religious grounds, AFAIK.
 
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Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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From http://nearnorthliving.com/who-finds-value-in-unorganized-townships/:

Unorganized townships come with low tax bills. However they may still be responsible for Board of Education taxes, Local Service Board taxes and Local Roads Board taxes if the unincorporated township is within the jurisdiction of these boards.

What buying property in an unorganized township gives you is the freedom to build and renovate on your property without building permits. If you are looking for a built turnkey home or cottage, unorganized townships will not bring much additional value as the building has already been completed. If you are looking to buy an existing structure in an unorganized township, make sure to get a through home inspection to ensure that it is built to code.


Unorganized District of Parry Sound

Unorganized area (Canada)
 
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I don't know if this is off topic or not, but speaking as one who has built a lot of houses in a lot of different juristictions, I thought maybe I could offer some advice.
One of the most valuable things you can do apart from educating yourself and cultivating a positive attitude is to develop a good working relationship with an engineer. Forgive me if I'm overgeneralizing. PE's tend to be some of the most down to earth individuals I've worked with. They're cheaper and less foo-foo than architects. Most of them have seen lots of crazy building ideas come and go. Most of them know code inside out and will usually question you before you talk to a building inspector. They'll also rubber stamp your plans. It's money well spent.
Also, I've heard the horror stories about 'the building inspector from hell', but I've never met one. Most I've dealt with are just regular normal people who really appreciate it if you go the extra mile to make their life easier. Just my thoughts.
 
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Posts: 48
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No website that I know of but I'm going to throw out a third vote for Missouri. Virtually all of the counties that are not urban have no zoning or code enforcement. The only thing the rural counties regulate is septic, satisfy them on that issue and build what you want.
 
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Howell, Douglas, Ozark, Texas, Oregon, Shannon and Morgan Counties in Missouri.

I see it as a growing hub for alternative building.
 
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Heather Beech wrote:There are counties in Missouri that do not require permits to build. My husband and I are looking into Douglas County, MO. My husband has worked construction his whole life so the thought of not building to code makes him a little nervous, but he is happy not to have to pay for permits and deal with inspectors


Do you know if Phelps or Crawford are like this? I find anything. The realtor says it's prob because they don't have out of city codes and permits aren't necessary. There *have* been plenty of permits paid for, even just Phelps County.
 
Bryan de Valdivia
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Kymberli Mundwiller wrote:Do you know if Phelps or Crawford are like this? I find anything. The realtor says it's prob because they don't have out of city codes and permits aren't necessary. There *have* been plenty of permits paid for, even just Phelps County.

Huh, out of curiosity, I googled them both. Seems like there's no building codes in either, at least out in the unincorporated county areas. However, I'd call to make sure.

On Phelps County, no zoning department is listed. Also, per the Phelps County FAQ page :

Q. Where do i get a Certificate of Occupancy?
A. Phelps County does not issue these or base assessments on zoning codes.

On Crawford county, they sure don't. Per the Crawford County Services List :

"Planning & Zoning
Crawford County has no Planning & Zoning Codes or Restrictions.
If you need information about property regulations and permits inside the city limits of a city within Crawford County, please contact the city hall of that city. Please refer to the “Related Links” page from the main menu for City contact information. We are able to provide documentation that there are no county codes or restrictions upon request."

Seems like you can build whatever you darned well please out there Except, both counties do have Health Departments, so you might need to get your septic system approved. Also, might be good to think about insurance and resale value.
 
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Location: OK
cat chicken urban
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I'm kind of going through the headache of this myself in my own county

to which there's only one incorporated city, but no real county offices nor anyone that's quite sure...

if it's off the grid, then here they seem to toss it under "hunting and fishing cabins"... which most states seem to have set standards for (albeit difficult to find the details of online for some.) but it's a lot more lax than typical housing quality standards.  (then there's the mention of permits by some... but through regulatory organizations that seem more akin to housing associations than required by law. I'm getting the sense that is if you want to formally rent it out or do so in certain communities and if you're particularly close to more recreational areas.)

partially or fully on the grid, then it's ensuring everything is up to codes and regulations towards the access of those utilities...

albeit, the closet one might get to some information or guidelines, in the states, is going through the united states department of argiculture > rural development

most of which relates to loans and rentals... but it's in govt speak and doesn't really get down to the nitty gritty. I should go exploring taxation codes next, I'd imagine.

It probably also doesn't hurt I'm cataloging homes in the area, their visible standards (and a few more detailed specs via real estate sites) and cross referencing with nearby protective services (adult/child)... 
 
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Waller County Texas  (an hour NW of Houston.)  Burleson County Texas  (Central Texas, last checked 4 years ago.)  Greys Harbor County Washington.  (Pacific Coast, Olympic Peninsula.)  Just my person experiences.

 
Posts: 95
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Here is a list of Missouri counties that are allowed to have building codes based on state law:
FIPSCountyEnergy Building CodeResidential CodeCommercial Code
19Boone County-2009 IRC2009 IBC
31Cape Girardeau County2009 IECC-2009 IBC
37Cass County-2006 IRC2006 IBC
43Christian County2006 IECC2006 IRC2006 IBC
51Cole County-2000 IRC2000 IBC
95Jackson County2009 IECC2009 IRC2009 IBC
99Jefferson County2003 IECC2003 IRC2003 IBC
165Platte County2012 IECC2012 IRC2012 IBC
510St. Louis City2009 IECC2009 IRC2009 IBC
183St. Charles County-2009 IRC2009 IBC
189St. Louis County2009 IECC2009 IRC2009 IBC
77Greene County-2012 IRC2012 IBC
47Clay County2012 IECC2012 IRC2012 IBC


Source: https://data.mo.gov/Economic-Development/County-Building-Codes-for-Missouri/iq7s-izvt
 
Posts: 722
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hopefully this will help.
this is a map that was on the earthship website for a while. (they have an interactive map now)



larger image here: http://earthship.com/pockets-of-freedome-map-old
or google search "earthship pockets of freedom map"
 
Bryan de Valdivia
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Tom Harner wrote:Here is a list of Missouri counties that are allowed to have building codes based on state law:
FIPSCountyEnergy Building CodeResidential CodeCommercial Code
19Boone County-2009 IRC2009 IBC
31Cape Girardeau County2009 IECC-2009 IBC
37Cass County-2006 IRC2006 IBC
43Christian County2006 IECC2006 IRC2006 IBC
51Cole County-2000 IRC2000 IBC
95Jackson County2009 IECC2009 IRC2009 IBC
99Jefferson County2003 IECC2003 IRC2003 IBC
165Platte County2012 IECC2012 IRC2012 IBC
510St. Louis City2009 IECC2009 IRC2009 IBC
183St. Charles County-2009 IRC2009 IBC
189St. Louis County2009 IECC2009 IRC2009 IBC
77Greene County-2012 IRC2012 IBC
47Clay County2012 IECC2012 IRC2012 IBC


Source: https://data.mo.gov/Economic-Development/County-Building-Codes-for-Missouri/iq7s-izvt


Tom, what are the implications of your table? don't know how it fits.

We've got a spread in Missouri, would like to know what would be possible.

Thanks!
 
Todd McDonald
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No website that I know of but I'm going to throw out a third vote for Missouri. Virtually all of the counties that are not urban have no zoning or code enforcement. The only thing the rural counties regulate is septic, satisfy them on that issue and build what you want.


I wanted to update this since I last posted it. I have gotten a little deeper into the wastewater issue during my planning process. There are 20 something counties that defer waste water regulation to the state level. I am currently working on some plans in Cooper County, which is a state regulated county, and if your parcel is over 3 acres they do not require a septic permit or septic inspection. You are required to follow the Clean Water Act though.
 
Tom Harner
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Bryan de Valdivia wrote:
Tom Harner wrote:Here is a list of Missouri counties that are allowed to have building codes based on state law:
FIPSCountyEnergy Building CodeResidential CodeCommercial Code
19Boone County-2009 IRC2009 IBC
31Cape Girardeau County2009 IECC-2009 IBC
37Cass County-2006 IRC2006 IBC
43Christian County2006 IECC2006 IRC2006 IBC
51Cole County-2000 IRC2000 IBC
95Jackson County2009 IECC2009 IRC2009 IBC
99Jefferson County2003 IECC2003 IRC2003 IBC
165Platte County2012 IECC2012 IRC2012 IBC
510St. Louis City2009 IECC2009 IRC2009 IBC
183St. Charles County-2009 IRC2009 IBC
189St. Louis County2009 IECC2009 IRC2009 IBC
77Greene County-2012 IRC2012 IBC
47Clay County2012 IECC2012 IRC2012 IBC


Source: https://data.mo.gov/Economic-Development/County-Building-Codes-for-Missouri/iq7s-izvt


Tom, what are the implications of your table? don't know how it fits.

We've got a spread in Missouri, would like to know what would be possible.

Thanks!


If your county is not on this list, there are no local/county/state level building codes or permits. (this is not legal advice... blah blah)

I understand that there is a waste management permit required... I haven't been able to figure that out yet for MO...
 
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Seems people are concerned about resale value and/or septic;  Lets talk resale value.  Build your home structurally sound and follow as many of the specs that you can find in highly regulated area.  Document, document, and document.  These drawings, photos and documents are invaluable even if you have to cut a hole in the wall, but when you sell, they are GOLDEN.  Especially for non traditional building methods, if you show the buyer photos of a well made wall, you are building trust into that sale.  All the info you give the buyer, they may not appreciate at the time, but the sheer volume will impress them at a gut level and they will be more apt to buy your non traditional house instead of the one they really know nothing about.  Next, let's talk septic.  Sure, you definately want a good septic system, properly licenced.  However, don't depend on them to know everything.  Research it youself.  Some people who can't afford a septic system can call the "honey wagon" to come take their "trash" away - that is your septic until such a time as you decide to build one for yourself.  Its Legal and if you have it set up then they should not bother you.
 
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We are looking out towards Washington or Iron County, MO and the surrounding areas too. Still probably 2 years out for us as we fix up the house we live in now, in Kansas City, but for now I can at least look and start paying attention to prices, features, etc.

The wife is finally on board and agrees that country living would be better and healthier for our young kids, although she prefers to stay within 30 miles or so of a decent size town/city for job purposes, and the same radius from a church that fits us... so, we've got some visiting to do. I'm looking for a county without building codes too, even if we mostly would prefer to follow codes as much as possible. Not sure what kind of house she really wants though, as far as she wants us to pay cash for some land and build our own, even if it starts out tiny. She's even been showing me Youtube videos of shipping container homes and the like! It's a start though...
 
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Location: North Alabama
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Since this thread came back up I'll chime in a bit. Here in Alabama there are only a handful of counties that have permitting/inspection requirements other than septic. If there is no major metropolitan area in the county you are fairly safe in assuming there aren't permits. The weather is good to great all year, unless you get towards the south end of the state where summers can be a little on the sweltering side, but probably no worse than KC. People here are generally friendly, happy, stay out of their neighbors' business, and employed. Depending on your politics, and religious leanings, you'll love it or hate it.

Even though I'm in Madison county surrounding Huntsville, and therefore we have permits, my unusual house has been proceeding without "major" issues. I did have to go to the office one day and lay out my plans in detail however. Most of the time the inspectors are supportive and helpful. But just two minutes away in Jackson County, septic is all you need to build a home of what ever kind you wish. We have folks living in shacks that want no better and are happy with things as they are and that's just fine, live and let live.

link to my thread: my house
 
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I'd be more interested in figuring out how to go about finding areas that would permit an organization to build such housing to establish new communities around the idea of sustainable and very affordable housing for very poor people and at the same time establishment of businesses to employ the people who would live in the community keeping in mind that not everyone who would live there would be employable at all.
The only real stipulation put upon the people would be the need to keep up routine maintenance and for those physically and mentally incapable having a program to support them as well as they age, become less capable and so forth.. Yeah, it's the bleeding heart part of me that wants to provide for people incapable of providing for themselves.
I remember the time when I was on the down and outs and there seemed to be no place I could go to build a small home with just my own labor, but also live around people with similar interests and needs.
At the time I was living in a shed in an old woman's back yard and we had discussed establishing such a community, but neither of us had the money nor the physical ability to do such a thing.
My health and lot in life has improved dramatically since that time and the old woman passed away, but those dreams still exist in my mind..
It's always kind of lingered in my mind how to go about establishing a community of this nature. Would it be possible and how many different aspects would need to be addressed?  Everything from building the houses to utilities to sustainability to establishing the criteria for who may qualify. What happens if a couple for example begins building their home in such a community, but through no fault of their own one or both develop physical and/or mental impairments.. How does such a community keep from having to evict them? Would it be even possible to get rid trouble making types?  How could such a community establish its own laws, enforcement mechanisms and so on?
I'm sure there are many other aspects I've never even considered.  I'd be very interested in getting an online community together to explore all of the different issues that might make such an idea possible because every city, state or locality has more than enough people who are always left out of the processes of being able to establish a home and place to feel secure and so on..
Most of the material I've read about building homes usually begins and ends with someone's desire to have their own place never really considering the neighbors and people who are limited by so many different factors.
I could go on and on about all kinds of issues and even the political aspects, but I'll leave it at this and wonder if I'm the only one who thinks about such pie in the sky thinking..
 
master steward
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Moderator note

This is a really neat topic and an exciting thing to investigate. 

However, a couple of posts have been removed by the staff for being highly political.  A reminder, political discussion is restricted to the cider press

I know, I know, it's a really fuzzy line between this topic and full-on political discussion.  The key is to keep it focused on the practical aspects and not so much on the 'why' of the laws. 

Thanks for your understanding.  This message will self-destruct in three days.
 
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I'm replying mainly to Martin just above.  My husband and I bought property to build on in Cochise County, AZ.

Cochise County has building code, and on some websites it is incorrectly mentioned as not having it.  However, it does have a really interesting and unusual zoning, a type of rural residential zone that allows 1 house per 5 acres without dividing the land.  This is very unusual in the West, because it means you can have multiple legal dwellings on one parcel.  Each one does need to have it's own septic, I believe.  Zoning that allows multiple dwellings in the US is pretty unusual without a zone change or special use permit.

This is the desert, but there are some really lovely areas in the foothills of the Chiricahua mountain ranges that get a little more water than a standard desert (like 15-17 inches, versus under 10), and also have good water aquifers that are fed from the mountains.  Many areas of Cochise county are high desert, above 4000 feet, so they do get cool winters and snow in some parts.  The growing season is very long.  Lots of heat and sun, a tad too much maybe.   Here are some useful links for learning about water in this area:

Water Basins in Arizona

Natural spring locations in the US

And here is a little inspiration, an ecovillage in AZ: Avalon Gardens Ecovillage

Good luck!
 
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