Current RV zoning ordinance adds to ambiguity, contention

John Ebert of Bremerton is an avid RVer and owns a lot for this purpose in Ocean Park.

Editor's note: This is the second story in a four-part series about RV use on the north end of the Peninsula. Part three in next week's issue will focus on proposed changes in the county's zoning ordinance and Surfside covenants regarding RV use.

Lack of clarity fuels debate over whose rights are being violated, homeowners or recreational vehicle ownersPENINSULA - The biggest roadblock to soothing the debate regarding RV use in the north end of the Peninsula is the lack of clarity and lack of substance in a county ordinance which address it, according to David Burke, a liaison to the Pacific County Planning Commission. This is particularly true in the communities of Surfside and Ocean Park.

"There is a great deal of ambiguity with Ordinance No. 95, because of the wording," said Burke. "The ambiguity is in regard to the restrictions that are made for a particular zoning category, such as R1."

Ordinance No. 95 consists of a number of sections, and according to Burke conflicting wording exists in these sections and subsections, which is the main contributing factor to the lack of clarity. For instance, in Subsection 9.02, the word "trailer" is used, but in the very next subsection (9.03) the word "RV" appears.

Even more confounding is Subsection 10.02, which addresses what is allowed in R1 zoning. If a RVer or homeowner were to read this section exclusively, without cross-referencing any other sections or subsections, it would read that only single-family residences (one-family dwellings) were allowed in R1-zoned areas, and not RVs.

A point of contention between homeowners and RVers that has arisen is determining just how long an RV can be parked unattended on a lot, either in the summer or during winter months. This issue has come up at a number of this summer's county planning commission meetings and at Pacific County Department of Community Development meetings.

In Subsection 1510 of Ordinance No. 95 that discusses RVs on property that is zoned R1 (restricted residential areas), this is not defined specifically, so this has left many wondering just what short-term means. The wording "short duration occupancy" is mentioned, but this is never defined or what months this would apply.

"It all depends on which section or subsection of Ordinance No. 95 you read," said Burke.

The lack of clarity in Ordinance No. 95 is particularly a hardship on people who are new to the area, not having any idea how to interpret the ordinance, according to Burke. He said the same is true for those who are part-time residents in the north end of the Peninsula.

When it comes to enforcing Ordinance No. 95, it is the Pacific County Department of Community Development which is the responsible agency. It is this agency which is also is saddled with trying to interpret the sections and subsections of the ordinance.

"We are faced with conflicting and vague definitions," said Pacific County Department of Community Development Assistant Director Mike DeSimone. "That is why it needs to be clarified."

DeSimone said not only is this a problem for R1 zones, which comprise the majority of the communities on the north end of the Peninsula, such as Ocean Park and Surfside, but also RR, R1, R2 and R3 zones.

"When we talked to Surfside, which is primarily R1, we said three to four years ago that our interpretation of Ordinance No. 95 is that RV use is allowed for short-term use in all of R1, R2 and R3," said DeSimone. "In Ocean Park it is the same thing.

According to DeSimone, the crux of the complaints received at Pacific County Department of Community Development is about unoccupied RVs in storage and multiple RVs on the same lot. He said his agency also gets a number of calls about RVs and septic issues.

"There is a whole list of issues," said DeSimone.

Burke said that what the county's planning commission is trying to do is convince people of the need for fixed rules for each zone, be it RR, R1, R2 or R3. He did acknowledge that he sees the bulk of the problem is with R1.

"That's where you've got more expensive homes and people wanting to use their RVs on their lots," said Burke. "In RR, there is more mixed use, which has historically been the case, which is why there are less complaints coming from people living in RR zoned areas of the Peninsula."

Further complicating the RVer versus homeowner debate is the fact that a number of communities on the north end of the Peninsula have their own restrictive covenants, most all of which also address RV use. According to Burke, these covenants can regulate RV use, but also work alongside the county's Ordinance No. 95.

"If Surfside made its covenants looser than the county's revisions in zoning pertaining to RVs, then they wouldn't have any effect," said Burke. But, if they made them more strict then they would apply. But Surfside's homeowners association would have to do the enforcement. The problem with this is that people get confused as to what the real rules are."

Contained within Surfside's covenants, aside from certain divisions, RV use is permitted, but a number of restrictions exist, such as limiting the number of days which an RV can be parked on a lot. A temporary conditional use permit for each RV must be obtained and each permit is issued for a specific time of usage, not to exceed 90 days per calendar year. In addition, the RV is not to remain on the platted parcel after the 90 days of usage.

Also within Surfside's covenants, a RV may be used as a temporary dwelling, not to exceed one year duration, during the period of active and continuous building construction of the principal structure on a platted parcel, provided septic and water supply connections are available and in use.

"Some people think it's too restrictive, our present regulations," said former Surfside Homeowners Association president Jerry Dunn at a July county planning commission meeting.

Speaking of the county's current zoning regarding RVs, Brian Harrision, Pacific County Department of Community Development director said the ambiguous language is something that the county wants to firm up in the coming year as the county's entire zoning ordinance is being revised. A final revision is expected to be completed by late 2003.

"The problem that we have now is we have a rule that is too difficult to enforce," said Burke. "The county commissioners want to continue to gather information and come up with a rule that everybody can live with."

The Surfside Homeowners Association is also looking at revising its covenants which address RV use in Surfside.

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