IOW Planning Commission tables camper issue

Published 9:28 am Saturday, May 5, 2012

By Stephen H. Cowles/Contributing Writer

ISLE OF WIGHT—The use of recreational vehicles — and by extension camping — was an issue facing the Planning Commission during Tuesday’s meeting.

Planning and Zoning Director Beverly Walkup first reminded the panel that per its request on Feb. 28, her staff surveyed 17 localities, including Smithfield and Southampton, on their respective policies of how RVs can be used.

None of them, said Walkup, allow RVs for permanent residential use, though in addition to the county, four places will permit them as temporary emergency shelters.

The survey and general topic that evening stem from an incident that took place last fall when Ivor resident Jay Ferguson allowed a friend to use an RV and utility hookups (water, sewage and electricity) for hunting on his property.

The connections were originally set up in the early 1990s when Ferguson used his own mobile home. Later, he built a house elsewhere on his land, but kept the links in case he should ever need them in again. For example, said Ferguson, if a fire or storm ruined his home, an RV could quickly be reconnected to the utilities.

But an anonymous source reported to the Planning and Zoning Department what was happening, and Ferguson was told that allowing the hunter’s use of the RV and utilities was against county code.

In an earlier email exchange on the topic with The Tidewater News, Walkup stated, “We cited Mr. Ferguson. Had he not had the RV connected to a drain field with water and electrical (connections), there would have been no way the county could prove that the RV was being used as a permanent or temporary residence. But having the RV connected to utilities gives us a clear indication that it’s being used as a residence. All we asked him to do was disconnect the RV from the utilities. Plus the vehicle tags needed updating.”

He complied with the order to disconnect the RV from the utilities.

Walkup’s department recommended Ferguson work with the Board of Supervisors to change the policy.

Hardy District’s JoAnn Hall, vice chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, who was also familiar with Ferguson’s situation, simply said in a separate interview, “Maybe it’s something that can be looked at.”

Walkup added that in the meantime he could also get a conditional use permit if he wanted to continue use of an RV at the hookup site for his hunting friend.

James P. O’Briant, board chairman, quickly noted that “anyone who’s ever slept in a tent, such as Boy Scouts, could get in a jam based on the code. It’s counterproductive to such groups, which also include Girl Scouts.”

Further, he’s known of a dozen farmers who have allowed Scouts to use their property for camping, typically a couple of weekend nights four to five times a year.

“We need to find a way to accommodate them,” said O’Briant.

Walkup was directed to investigate camping by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

A question about the “innocence” of such camping was questioned by the board; one member acknowledged that a group of people could get together, call themselves an organization and camp out, only to cause mischief, which was also one of Walkup’s concerns.

During his time to speak, Ferguson asked why only children’s camping was considered innocent, but not adults.

“Hunting is a recreational activity, not a residential activity,” he argued.

William G. Saunders IV agreed with the department staff, and said, “An RV should not be used as a permanent residence, except in an emergency situation.”

Ultimately, the commission decided to give the matter more thought while attending a retreat in May.

After the meeting, Ferguson said he would have preferred the matter to have been settled that evening. He was encouraged, however, that the board has been willing to examine the matter, rather than just dismiss it entirely.