By Lyndsie Kiebert
The Bonner County Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Nov. 21 to approve part of a land use code change regarding recreational vehicles — and to hold onto part of the proposed changes in order to do further research amid vocal public pushback.
The portion of the proposed changes the commission approved — and which drew very little public comment during the hearing — allowed for the expansion of RV parks into areas zoned Agricultural/Forest and Rural and Suburban. Meanwhile, the proposed code would also allow for the expansion of campgrounds into areas zoned Agricultural/Forest, Rural, Suburban, Commercial, Rural Service Center, Recreation and Alpine Village. In addition, the approved portion of code set standards for establishing RV parks and campgrounds in the new zones.
What county planners held off on was changing regulations regarding personal, permanent RV use on private property. Currently, Bonner County Revised Code only allows the occupancy of an RV for 120 days, unless otherwise permitted as an official dwelling.
“We have lots of concerns from folks about where RVs are allowed to go. We also have lots of property that are large-acre parcels, and we have folks that want to come up and build on their property and live in an RV while they build on their property. Personally, I have been considering that option as well,” said Planning Director Milton Ollerton in his presentation at the start of the hearing.
“The challenge is that the ordinance says 120 days. The other challenge with this ordinance is that it says occupancy shall not exceed 120 days — that’s really hard to verify,” he added. “So staff has been discussing this with the planning and zoning commission to find the best way to address that ordinance.”
In order to establish permanency, Ollerton said property owners need only have the RV parking space marked with stakes. Water and sewer hookups are not required under the proposed code.
“I understand, I grew up in an area with lots and lots of 40-acre parcels and I understand living off-grid,” Ollerton said. “Electrical can be provided through solar or wind … Water can be hauled, sewer can be addressed in lots of different ways. Panhandle Health has regulations that allow the sewer to be addressed in lots of different ways.”
As the permitting agency for septic and sewer systems, Panhandle Health remained a main player in the conversation at the meeting.
“We, the county, choose to leave those responsibilities to the property owner,” Ollerton said. “The property owner is responsible for taking care of those permits with Panhandle Health for sewer. We leave that to them. If their septic system is at capacity and they want to add two [RV] parking spaces on their property, they will need to work with Panhandle Health to address that.”
As far as the potential environmental impacts, the planners discussed how there would be no clear way to estimate how many people might opt to add permanent RVs to their properties should the code be adopted.
Local social media outlets were filled with debate over the topic prior to the Nov. 21 hearing, which saw nearly 100 attendees packed into the Bonner County Administration Building first-floor meeting room.
During the public comment period, one person questioned the county’s authority to permit vehicles, wondering if it overlapped with Department of Motor Vehicles responsibilities. Others pondered the cumulative effects of permanent RVs on neighbors living in close quarters, and many cited vague language in the proposed code. Most who commented were opposed to the overall idea of adding anything to county code, despite Ollerton’s repeated reminders that the changes would “loosen” regulations on personal, permanent RV use.
“We consider this type of administrative action to be recursive and would only increase the tax burden for the citizens of the county,” Priest River resident Tracy Roberts read from a petition that garnered 198 signatures in opposition to the code changes in the week leading up to the hearing.
“Many of us here are looking for less regulation, not more regulation. We came here to this county … and we appreciate that it’s a free place — it’s a place known for its liberty,” she added in her own words.
After nearly three hours of comments and discussion, the commission chose to approve the code changes regarding RV parks and campgrounds, but to hold onto the personal use regulations for further study and another workshop at an undetermined date.
Bonner County commissioners will have the final say on any code changes recommended by the planning commission.
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