Saturday, June 15, 2024

‘Chicken or the egg?’ Non-compliant RV park shut down by commissioners

Michael Faulkner submitted a text amendment to the county’s land use code in the hopes of creating a small, boutique RV park in northern NHC. (Courtesy photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — One man’s attempt to change the county’s land use rules to allow for smaller, boutique RV parks did not impress county commissioners.

READ MORE: Local entrepreneur proposes NH county allow smaller lot sizes for ‘boutique’ RV parks

Michael Faulkner submitted a request to amend New Hanover County’s unified development ordinance. The planning board recommended approval 5-1 on June 1, the dissenting vote citing a potential increase in RV parks popping up in residential areas. 

Faulkner hoped to create a separate zoning, per staff’s recommendations, that would allow RV parks to operate with a minimum of eight spaces on 1,200 square feet of land each — down from the county’s current regulations of a 25-space minimum on 2,000 square feet.

The amendment also would have allowed commissioners to vote on proposed RV and campground areas per a conditional rezoning in residential districts, as opposed to a special-use permit required currently. 

County planner Zach Dickerson told commissioners staff often receives calls for people wanting to park RVs on residential land but very few reach out to operate an RV park. 

There are currently three RV parks within the unincorporated county limits, he said.

Specifically, Faulkner was looking to create Castle Hayne Farm Park on Brentwood Road in northern New Hanover, just a few miles from downtown.

What was not revealed initially, though, was that Faulkner had been operating his business for about a year out of compliance with the county’s current regulations.

“He’s asking for forgiveness as opposed to permission and I want to know why it continues to happen when the owner’s been cited?” commissioner Jonathan Barfield said during Monday’s meeting. “Although we’re talking about a text amendment, the applicant is really looking at his property. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? He’s trying to lay an egg so a chicken can be birthed out of it.”

County planning director Rebekah Roth told the board she learned about the RV park in December and sent a letter of violation to cease operations in January. When staff inspected the property Feb. 12, Faulkner “came into compliance” according to Roth.

“Upon receiving additional complaints via telephone during the week of June 12, 2023, we investigated again, and a second Notice of Violation was sent on June 20, 2023 instructing Mr. Faulkner to cease operations within three days of receiving the notice,” Roth told PCD. “Staff verified that no RV’s were present at the site on June 29, 2023, and civil penalties were never accrued.”

Roth suggested Faulkner submit a text amendment that would make his park legitimate. She informed him all activity on the 2-acre land was to stop while that avenue was pursued.

According to neighbors living on Victoria, Brentwood and Palmetto drives, that has not happened. 

Resident Scarlett Spencer told commissioners Faulkner had been operating his RV park since July 2022. Spencer also pointed to many negative impacts with an RV park and campground in a residential neighborhood.

“Excessive noise, unsupervised pets and kids, and the most alarming, the potential of sex offenders,” she said.

Spencer noted sex offenders are only required to register where they are staying with the county’s sheriff’s office, if they intend to stay 13 days or longer. The county’s guidelines don’t currently specify the length of duration someone can stay at an RV park.

Commissioner LeAnn Pierce recommended implementing a specific timeline to the land-use codes. Faulkner told commissioners, based on state regulations and for insurance purposes, the longest someone could stay would be six months before it would be deemed a “mobile home park” instead.

Resident Terry Tonn was concerned about portable toilets popping up on site and random people coming and going in the neighborhood. Though county staff pointed out permanent restroom structures to accommodate guests would be required.

Residents also said Faulkner’s website promotes the park for only 21-years-old and over but they have witnessed children running around.

Julia Jewell, who owns a farm on Palmetto Road, said kids from the campground have been on her property bothering her animals.

“They try to climb over my gates, try to rattle my animals, and they told me where they’re staying and it’s at the RV park,” she said. “There’s a transient factor that doesn’t understand respect.”

Faulkner told Port City Daily those who spoke in opposition presented “a lot of misinformation.”  He clarified to commissioners he would do background checks to ensure no sexual offenders rented the property and intended to retain the 21-and-up rule.

He attempted to have the item continued to allow more time to flesh out his research, but commissioners denied the request before unanimously denying his application for a text amendment.

They were displeased with the fact Faulkner had already been cited for operating without a permit. The applicant is also accruing civil penalties for not complying with the county’s cease and desists. 

While the applicant was requesting a text amendment that would apply to the entire county, the commissioners thought the pursuit was too personal.

“It’s an easy no for me,” commissioner Dane Scalise said. “We shouldn’t be in the business of changing our rules and our UDO to accommodate any specific person at any given time. We need to play fair.”

Dickerson told commissioners if the amendment were approved, anyone requesting to operate an RV park would have to submit a conditional rezoning. The application would include a detailed site plan and proposed standards before moving through the planning board and then commissioners for approval.

Therefore, commissioners would still have the opportunity to vote on any future submissions.

“I don’t know how this will translate to the rest of the county,” Scalise said. “I’m concerned about the unintended consequences, practically speaking, with how major change plays out when talking about how we develop undeveloped portions of our county.”

Faulkner said the county’s ordinance had not been updated with the changing market and people working remotely. He was pushing for using the park as temporary housing for traveling nurses, contractors and other employees passing through.

When asked what Faulkner might do next, after his text amendment was denied, he told PCD he could file again, request a special use permit and build 25 RV sites under current regulations —  or Airbnb a few RV sites as a homeowner. Though for the latter, he’s still trying to figure out if a permit is needed to do so or if it’s even allowed.

“Still figuring out which direction and legalities of each,” he said.

Roth told PCD on Wednesday RVs are allowed to be parked on residential properties, but they cannot be lived in even on a temporary basis, except for as temporary relocation following major storm events. The only place RVs can be used as residence, including short-term rentals, is in an RV park by the county’s ordinance.

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