Private Property RV Camp Code Creates Planning, Zoning Dilemma
Every spring, Carbon's planning and zoning office is flooded with calls from residents who want to park trailers, campers or motor homes on private property in the mountainous areas of the county.
"We get a lot of grief over this issue," explained Dave Levanger, the county planning and zoning director. "People buy the land up there and then decide they can do what they want regardless of zoning or sanitation. But we have to protect the watershed and the public."
However, the control seems to be getting more difficult to maintain. A significant number of the land owners are reportedly ignoring the law and the county's recently adapted development code identifies several zones where the camps are allowed.
According to Levanger, the problem surfaced when the permitted uses for private camps were left in the watershed and mountain range zone, but the definitions were inadvertently removed.
The oversight has created a situation where people have asked for permits to set up camps because they find out that the notation exists in the code.
But the planning and zoning staff members have no guidelines to follow in connection with the permits.
"It's a problem we need to deal with," pointed out Levanger at the planning and zoning board meeting on Aug. 3. "My opinion is that we should either define how those provisions can be used or we should delete them from the code."
The problem Levanger and the planning-zoning staff have with the camps is that many of the RVs turn into permanent structures.
Permanent camps often ignore plumbing and sanitation codes, with residents failing to install sewer septic systems.
RVs may be self-contained, but the only way to get rid of sewage is to take the vehicles to certified dumping sites or empty the waste onto the ground.
"We already have some of these kinds of situations in Beaver Creek," pointed out the county planning and zoning official. "The drainage there leads directly into the Price River."
In one case, Levanger indicated that some people set up a pipe leading to a 55 gallon drum for the camp's disposal system.
"They even painted the pipe to camouflage it from sight," revealed Levanger during an interview after the planning and zoning board meeting.
The board members have discussed the problem at the last two meetings. Some of the members have admitted that it is difficult for them to make rules to keep the owners off private property.
"What about a solution such as not allowing camping for months at a time?" asked board member Lynna Topolovec. "Doesn't the state have something they use on their lands to regulate camping? Couldn't we adapt something from that?"
The U.S. Forest Service has a 14-day limit for camping in one spot. But one planning and zoning board member pointed out that a person can park a trailer in a spot for 14 days, then move the vehicle a few feet and stay an additional two weeks.
Other board members suggested that the county could check on the RVs to see that the vehicles do not stay longer than a specified period of time.
But Levanger pointed out that enforcement is nearly impossible in some areas.
"I can't see us going out into the entire county and monitoring this," stated the planning and zoning director. "Besides many of these types of problems exist behind locked gates."
Member Richard Tatton said he thought 14 days would be difficult to control. Tatton suggested that perhaps the board could come up with a regulation allowing 90 days.
However, Levanger indicated his experience has shown that, if a unit stays on a piece of land for 90 days, the camp tends to become permanent.
"What I also find is that they start to build structures over them to protect them from the elements," explained the planning and zoning director.
The staff passed out a copy of Carbon County Ordinance 160, adopted in May 1982.
The ordinance basically forbids "visitors" from camping upon property without the written permission of the owner.
The guideline prohibits camping, even with the owner's permission, if the accommodations do not meet the county zoning and planning codes.
After some more discussion the planning commission asked the staff to go ahead with putting together final definitions on the issue to insert in the code and to then take them directly to the county commission for approval.
During an interview on Wednesday, Levanger indicated that the definitions are developed and will come before the board in a public meeting in the immediate future.
Addressing an unrelated matter at the meeting, the planning board dealt with a more specific issue - gas wells around the Pleasant Valley area.
Concerns about approving wells in the area usually involve the watershed and whether a particular development could affect the quality of the water going into Scofield Reservoir or the springs in the area.
The well in question was proposed by the Prima Oil and Gas Company on land owned by Paul and Carolyn Jacob in a canyon east of the reservoir.
The request was to change the zoning from Watershed to Mountain Range.
"There has been questions on some of the wells that have been put in that area," said Tatton. "Will this affect any streams?"
"I know that there were concerns about nine wells that were set up on properties nearby," said Larry Johnson, who was representing Prima at the board meeting. "But we have checked with both the Price River Water Improvement District and Price city and they say this well will have no impact on their water sources in the area. We are taking all the precautions including a containment pond with a liner for the well."
In addition, Johnson said the company has a surface agreement in place that will allow Prima to pull off and stockpile topsoil for reclamation purposes.
"We will also have to upgrade the road to the site a little," noted Johnson, responding to questions about disturbance to ground and scenery. "When the drilling is done, the only thing that will be able to be seen from the road will be the well head and that is a mile from the highway."
Topolovec indicated that she was still concerned about the water in the area, even with the precautions.
"I know that you will be testing the streams in the area to see if there is impact. But what about the springs?" asked Topolovec.
As the members discussed the situation, the board determined that only Fish Springs were close to the area and could be endangered in any way.
Helper gets a significant portion of the city's water supply from the springs.
"Looking at the distance of the site from our springs, I can't see a problem with it," said board member Bob Welch, the Helper councilman in charge of the city's water department. "It looks to be three to four canyons away from our resource."
Following the discussion, the board members approved the gas company's rezoning and conditional use permit requests for the well.