County commission remands RV ordinance to planning commission

ST. GEORGE – A Washington County Commission work meeting was held Monday to discuss a proposed amendment to the Washington County zoning ordinance, Title 10, Chapter 13, Section 23, which prohibits the use of recreational vehicles, including camp trailers and fifth-wheel trailers, as permanent living quarters – defined as being used for more than 10 consecutive nights or for 21 nights in a 45-day period – on private property located in unincorporated areas throughout the county. RV use in Kolob is, however, a permitted use under the current code; thus citizen concerns arose that the proposed ordinance would limit that use in Kolob, a limitation that did not in fact bear out.

The County Commission meeting had to be moved from the Conference Room to the Chamber Room in order to accommodate the large number of attendees who showed up for the meeting, St. George, Utah, June 16, 2014 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News
The County Commission meeting had to be moved from the Conference Room to the Commission Chamber in order to accommodate the large number of attendees who showed up for the meeting, St. George, Utah, June 16, 2014 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News

Following the work meeting that was well-attended by the public, Washington County Commissioners voted overwhelmingly to send the proposed zoning ordinance amendment back to the planning commission for further review and consideration in light of the comments offered by attendees.

The commissioners were reviewing the proposed ordinance for the first time after it was advanced to them by the planning commission last Tuesday.

During the meeting, commissioners clarified that the proposed ordinance was to loosen restrictions on recreational vehicle use on private property elsewhere in the county would not change or restrict the current use of recreational vehicles on Kolob.

Recreational vehicles are permitted on Kolob from May 15 through November 15 of each year.

The history behind the proposal

In offering a bit of history in how the proposed ordinance amendment came about, Deputy Washington County Attorney Eric Clarke said that the county building inspector went to the Pine Valley Planning Commission three months ago, stating that it is known how Kolob works, but it is not known where things are or are not allowed anywhere else in the county; it says it’s allowed in Kolob, but it doesn’t say anything about the rest of the county.

“The planning commission said ‘well, we ought to clarify that,’ and over the course of two or three meetings, talked through what they would feel like would be appropriate for the rest of the county,” Clarke said. “What they approved last week and sent off to the county commission to review and for final, if the county commission chooses to adopt it, was something that would change how the rest of the county is impacted by RVs during the year.”

Steven Vincent with the County Attorney’s Office, who wrote the proposed ordinance amendment with the planning commission, said:

I think the main concern came out of Pine Valley. This was something that came from originally the planner and the inspector. The inspector’s understanding – and it’s a little vague – is that we don’t permit this period anywhere else in the county right now. So our thought was to open it up a bit more and give clear guidance, so that we have a better understanding for which is allowed and is not allowed . . . because it’s not listed as a permitted or conditional use; and therefore, it’s not allowed currently elsewhere in the county to park it overnight. So, our thoughts were, we’d give people the right to do that – at least temporarily.

But we’ve also had problems with people parking their RV in a residential zone and living there and literally living in their RV on residential-zoned property, which has been a problem with neighbors. Also, we’ve had complaints about people leaving RVs up year round having snow cave in the roofs. Those kind of things are becoming an eyesore.

So those are the kind of things that we are trying to respond to as we went about addressing this problem. So in some ways we are kind of making it more permissive than what is currently allowed because it’s being operated under the idea that it’s not currently allowed.

An additional issue being looked into is the septic issue. The state only issues so many septic tank permits, Vincent said.

“We’ve had bad problems with illegal dumping.”

We get complaints often from other folks up there that have homes or cabins, Washington County Commission Chairman James Eardley said, that properties are not being kept in sanitary conditions – raw sewage falling out on the ground – things like that that are a concern to all of us and this is an attempt to give us the ability to deal with those issues.

Ultimately, Vincent said, the Planning Commission didn’t want people parking their RV and living in it for months on end in a residential zone.

“It sounds like it might be a work in progress,” Eardley said.

Ordinance opposition and uncertainty 

“I get very concerned anytime somebody proposes rules, regulations and laws that are works in progress,” Hurricane resident Craig Harris said, “Obamacare is a work in progress.” Continuing, he said:

If there are specific issues that the county commission wishes to address – such as illegal dumping or waste water or things like that – address that issue, but don’t infringe upon the liberties of others. If you have an issue of people leaving destroyed and uninhabitable mobile homes and other structures up there, address that specifically – codify it with a penalty, but don’t infringe upon the liberties of others or property rights of others who do try to abide by good neighborly conduct by social contract and who do take care of their property and things like that. I think that’s the main reason why most of us are gathered here today.

Responding to Harris, Eardley said: “Well you’ve got to know our hearts are pure on this, man, because we’re having this meeting just to have input.”

Washington resident Blake Nisson asked the board if they could estimate the amount of complaints they had received about RVs. Nisson said:

I’d bet that the complaints are significantly lower than the amount of people that use RVs. I just feel like, in this country, we’ve come to a point where we need to take the minorities’ complaints and make all these laws to appease them and screw over the people who are living the laws and not letting sewage dump all over and are being good stewards of the environment. I guarantee that the majority of the people that own RVs aren’t letting sewage run out everywhere and just have the snow crashed in and ruin and make the neighborhood look awful.

Another point is: I just don’t understand the whole point of ‘oh, it’s an eyesore.’ So really, that’s the complaint, that’s it’s an eyesore? That’s really so traumatic on people that they have to see an RV that has a couple dents or cracks in it? I mean, what if you thought this red shirt is an eyesore? Should we make a law saying I can’t wear a red shirt? Where does it stop? Where does the line get drawn?

It just seems like we’re constantly overreaching on these laws and creating laws for things that don’t need to be fixed.

Washington County Chairman James Eardley and Commissioner Dennis Drake listen to comments from attendees of the proposed RV ordinance amendment meeting, St. George, Utah, June 16, 2014 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News
Washington County Commission Chairman James Eardley and Commissioner Dennis Drake listen to comments from attendees of the proposed RV ordinance amendment meeting, St. George, Utah, June 16, 2014 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News

The majority of the community members in attendance echoed similar sentiments, urging the board of commissioners to address isolated issues or problems with fines, but not to restrict the entire community on their individual properties because of the few who create problems.

Many of the attendees said they were unclear of the meaning of the ordinance amendment due to the wordage and important sentences left out of the document, while Deputy Attorney Clarke called the ordinance ambiguous.

“Why not address those specific issues instead of throwing a blanket of prohibition over the entire county,” Hurricane resident Trevor Sanders said, “and then try and pigeonhole exceptions after the fact?”

In response to Sanders and in an attempt to clarify the purpose of the proposed ordinance amendment, Washington County Commissioner Dennis Drake said:

One of the issues you’re addressing is exactly the problem we’ve got – there is a blanket over the rest of the county, the whole county is prohibited from RVs parking on these various properties  that’s the problem, we’ve got to clarify that. And this may not be the best way, but at least it’s a start to get discussion and to get the actual events that are causing the problem to be eliminated.

We do have the issues in Pine Valley – we do have them in any area that’s a recreational area. You know, people are parking them and using them as homes on lots that they’re not designated for that. So it’s not, as you’re stating, it’s not a blanket. The blanket’s already in place because right now it is illegal everywhere but Kolob.

Fault in the ordinance even after clarification

“Most of the cities have their own zoning ordinances that take care of this, so I don’t see the point of the county pushing themselves into our daily lives when it doesn’t need to happen,” Charles Reeves said. “If I own bedrooms in Washington County, why does that county want to know which bedroom I sleep in, so they can see whether I slept in the bedroom for more than 21 days out of a 45-day period? You have to go to the commission, to the planning group, and ask permission to use your property? This is my property – why do I have to go and ask permission to use my property?”

One point that commissioners and the community members could easily agree on was made by Washington County landowner Cecil Dutton regarding the 10-day limitation.

“On public land, if I take my RV and I take it up to Kolob Reservoir – that’s public land right there – I can stay on it for 14 days without moving it, Dutton said. “Why are we making it on private land worse than public land?”

That’s a good point, Drake said.

First guns, now recreational vehicles and property use?

Reeves: I guess I’m confused again. Mr. County Attorney representative, did you say that it’s a prohibited use in the county or did you say that it’s ambiguous?

Clarke: It’s ambiguous.

Reeves: Mr. Eardley did you say it’s prohibited?

Eardley: I did and I’m going to stick with that.

Reeves: So Mr. Eardley says it’s prohibited. The county attorney says it’s ambiguous. OK so I understand where we are there. One other point, Mr. Eardley is saying it’s an enforcement thing; that it’s too hard to enforce.

Eardley: Because it’s very difficult to enforce when you have to go campsite by campsite.

Reeves: So if we make an analogy to another thing that a lot of people – that’s in the news right now – the idea is that gun laws are already there – it’s already illegal to murder people but it’s hard to enforce that so let’s just take away everybody’s guns. I think that we’re talking about the same thing here. I know it’s hard, but let’s not just take away everybody’s right to use their RV where it’s hard to enforce.

Eardley: That is not our intention here.

What’s next?

Drake asked the attendees what they would like to see the commissioners do with the ordinance – table it, research it – and how they would like it handled.

“If you’re anywhere but Kolob, you can’t take your RV and park it,” Drake said, “and that’s what we’re trying to do is to open it up to other areas like Pine Valley. To me, that’s the whole purpose of the ordinance. This isn’t to restrict, it’s actually to make it more accessible for other areas. We don’t want to mess with Kolob; what we want to do is clarify what we can do within other areas of the county.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Washington County Commission has remanded the proposed RV zoning ordinance back to the Washington County Planning Commission for further review.

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9 Comments

  • County Dictatorship June 17, 2014 at 8:54 am

    These are your lands, not County Commission lands. You don’t need the county commission creating more rules, regulations and laws that impose upon your freedoms to rightfully use your lands. Next, the county commission may start demanding use fees and permits and more regulations and controls.

  • Me June 17, 2014 at 10:50 am

    This is very sad. Unfortunately, Vincent has no idea what he is talking about and neither do most of the other officials quoted in the article. R317-4 is the state code that regulates septic systems. As noted in the law, this authority is delegated to the local health departments. The state does not limit how many septic systems permits are issued; this is again regulated by the local (5 county) health department, and there is no number limit. Further, if there is illegal dumping going on this should be reported to the health department for investigation (the people that actually have expertise on the issue). If dumping is not reported, obviously it will continue without someone stopping it. However, the very few times that illegal dumping has been reported, the local health department cannot get county officials to support their requested required steps.

    Unfortunately, it appears the most uninformed people on this issue are the ones attempting to rewrite the laws and get involved. Maybe people should be a bit more informed before they start making public statements like this–especially county officials.

  • J June 17, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Interesting thought process there. If the government does not explicitly give you permission to do something on your own private property, it isn’t allowed.

    Lets throw these bums out next election.

    • Joe June 17, 2014 at 11:20 am

      I agree that the law sounds flawed, but I bet its nothing thats new to washington county or other surrounding countries. And would you replace them with you, so that everyone can comment how dumb you are? I bet they have a lot on their plates and I don’t see any elected position as an easy one. I think most of our city and county officials do they’re best and I appreciate their service.

  • Applauding St George News June 17, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Great big thank you to St George News for your excellence in getting the news delivered the way it should be. You are the reason so many people knew to show up to the commission meeting and you’ve done a spectacular job clarifying the facts on this. I commend you on keeping us informed on important issues

    • Frank June 18, 2014 at 12:40 am

      This site is way better than they daily rectum. I now use this site for all my Southern Utah news.

  • Joe June 17, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Great article that helps clarify what brought up the amendment in the first place. Sounds like the Commission was trying to do something about the complaints and they did the right thing by seeing what the public had to say on the matter. And the public’s voices were heard. I actually appreciate the fact that they heard our opinion on the matter and listened to us.

  • PligKid June 17, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    the more laws that are made the more laws that are broken. W need to start getting rid of these bulls…* laws and stop making more. we need our rights. All of them just cause I don’t like Fords don’t mean i want to out law them. If people don’t stop trying to control others then the outbreak will be bad when everyone just snaps.
    *Ed. elipses

  • THAT GUY June 17, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    I do not know how many of you can read and understand english . From the comments I would say more then a few of you. It has never been legal to just pull an RV onto your side yard and just start living in it. Just because a few of you hillbilly types have. That does not make it legal. I see this article skips around this a bit, but has good intent. I wish it was more specific on this. As I have a neighbor who parked an RV in his driveway. And now rents it out to druggies and tweekers. That have no regarded for cleanliness or the neighbors and let the septic holding tank overflow and spill out on to the ground. Then let it flow down the gutter. Carelessly allowing untreated sewage to flow right into the stormdrain and then into our rivers and streams. Contaminating the very water we drink, wash and cook with. I for one have a problem with that. As for letting responsible folks use their RV for family outings and weekend get aways as they were intended (as this seems to be the theme) I am all for that.

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