For years the placement of recreational vehicles on parcels of land, especially in single-family zoning districts, was a contentious issue in Oneida County before advocates for such use won the battle years ago, but in 2019 the issue is back, and this time it is growing exponentially.
Now the issue isn't having one recreational vehicle on a parcel of property, it's having multiple campers on a property, as well as the use of recreational vehicles and so-called park models as permanent homes, sometimes to evade single-family density requirements and sometimes without any other structure on the property at all.
Last week, county zoning director Karl Jennrich asked the zoning committee for guidance because his office is fielding questions from people interested in putting park models and recreational vehicles on their properties, as well as complaints from the neighbors of those who have already done so.
"As of today in Oneida County, we do allow recreational vehicles, or campers, on parcels of property," Jennrich told the committee. "The county has not set a size requirement so they are allowed on any size lot in any type of zoning district, and we also allow multiple units. Staff has gotten inquiries, more and more, about 'can we place a recreational vehicle on a parcel of property?' and we say, 'yes.'"
The only recent changes have been that if a recreational vehicle is used for more than five consecutive days, people have to have either some type of non-plumbing sanitary system or a septic system, depending on whether they are connected to potable water and/or electric.
Jennrich cited one complaint he investigated in Nokomis in which three campers were on a parcel.
"So they had three pads," he said. 'I don't know if they had electric to all three or not. But basically those three units - it's a family - shared the parcel of property and so they have their campers there and they have the ability to use it."
The zoning director cited another instance in which a family owned a parcel in a single-family zoning district and had placed four or five campers on the property.
"They basically keep them there year round," he said. "I'm assuming they winterize them in the winter and don't use them, but they basically use them year-round. So we're getting calls from individuals who want to buy a parcel of property and they are now asking the question about multiple units."
So the issue is no longer having one unit but having multiple units, Jennrich said.
"It's 'we want to have a couple of different pads and have people use that and have campers there for the summer or year-round,'" he said. "We are seeing on lakefront properties, and the ordinance allows it, where people are constructing a pad and they are bringing their big buses in and they are basically staying there for the summer and using their parcel of property. It can be on water or off water."
Jennrich said the department didn't really know how to answer people when they inquired about multiple units because the committee and county has not placed any limits on the numbers.
"That's where it is getting fuzzy," he said.
It's not just about putting multiple campers on vacant parcels, either. In another instance, said zoning office manager Denise Hoppe, a family in a single family district have a house but they wanted to bring in a Park Model so their daughter could live in the park model.
"Under the ordinance it's considered a recreational vehicle, but she wants to live there year-round, and they are really not supposed to," Hoppe said. "They want to hook it up in their septic system. There's nothing that says they can't do it. Then you start looking at density, but you can't say density because it's a travel trailer."
Other times, people want multiple campers so their kids can come during the summer, Hoppe said.
"You can't tell them they can't do it, but then we get calls from the neighbors, and the neighbors are upset," she said. "It's really hard with these campers."
And while people need a permit if they stay for more than five consecutive days, people often simply say the units are just for weekend use.
"You are seeing campers being placed on a property permanently, but they are saying they are up for weekends, so it's not five consecutive days or greater," Jennrich told the committee. "I have told this committee and the county board that I am not going to chase those unless I have definitive evidence that they are being used for five consecutive days or greater.
Where it becomes difficult is in determining whether the units are dwellings under the terms of the ordinance, Jennrich said: "Is it a dwelling or not, on lakefront property, especially with 20,000 square feet of lot and a hundred feet of frontage for the first unit and 75 feet for the second unit?"
"All of a sudden they want to come in [to a home] with a recreational vehicle on a permanent basis or a park model, and I didn't see that coming," he said. "I saw a vacant piece of property where you have a park model or recreational vehicle, whether on water or off water, but the one that's throwing us for a loop is, you put the recreational vehicle there, do you apply the density to it or not and also now you have multiple campers."
In yet another instance, staff said, two families together bought a lot with 100 feet of frontage and put their travel trailers there, and placed them in one septic system, and zoning committee member Billy Fried wondered if such recreational units could be considered dwellings for regulatory purposes under certain conditions.
"So now we have a camper on a single family, doesn't it become a dwelling at a certain point if there is no other structure and people are living in it 'x' amount of days during the year?" Fried asked. "Isn't that a way to approach it."
Jennrich said he didn't know and wanted to know if the committee wanted him to pursue the issue and possible ordinance language. There were complaints, the zoning director said, and many come from neighbors with higher-priced homes who don't want multiple campers next door.
"In the Nokomis complaint, there were two houses and three campers in between," he said.
When people call, Hoppe said, the county has to demur.
"Right now, when people call to ask questions, we tell them there is really nothing we can do about it because there's no language in the ordinance that stops them from having multiple campers," she said.
Supervisor Ted Cushing said he thought zoning staff should pursue the issue, and the committee then directed zoning staff to explore possible remedies and bring the issue back to the committee for possible action.
Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming "Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story" and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.
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