Planning Commission Rejects Camping Restrictions

The Clarke County Planning Commission voted down an ordinance that would have tightened restrictions for campers spending more than 15 days a month at private campsites in the County. In rejecting the proposed ordinance, Commissioners said that the new law would unfairly penalize small landowners while not addressing the underlying issues of noise abatement and sanitation control.

The extended camping concern came before the Planning Commission by way of Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh) who raised the issue at a Board of Supervisors meeting several weeks ago. Weiss said that small lots along the Shenandoah River were being improperly occupied for long periods of time and that electrical generators being used at the campsites were causing noise disruption to nearby homeowners.

At today’s meeting, Locke’s Mill Road resident James Harper said that he had been complaining about improper sanitation at riverside campsite for two years but nothing has yet been done to address his concerns.

“People are setting up long-term campsites with no toilet facilities,” Harper said. “It’s a problem for people who live along the river.”

Harper said that his family confronted the issue last Easter Sunday when his grandchildren went out into his yard for an Easter egg hunt.

“There was a pile of crap in my front yard,” Harper said.

Harper said that calls to the Virginia Department of Health have done nothing to address the problem.

“The fellow at the Health Departments asked me how I knew that the problem wasn’t being caused by a bear and not a human,” Harper said. “I told him bears don’t use toilet paper.”

Harper asked the Commissioners to do something about the human waste problem both for the sake of area landowners as well as Shenandoah River quality

“If someone sets up a camp it needs to have a toilet facility,” Harper said.

But in voting down the measure, Planning Commissioners questioned whether the new ordinance, which would have limited camping on lots smaller than three acres to 15 days or less per 30-day period, was the right approach.

“It seems like the underlying problems here are sanitation and noise,” remarked Commissioner Robina Bouffault (White Post). “But I don’t see this ordinance addressing either specific problem.”

“People camping without proper septic facilities is a health issue,” said Commissioner Richard Thuss (Millwood). “How did we get from a health issue to no camping on a three-acre parcel anywhere in the County?”

Thuss also questioned the ordinance’s impact on small landowners.

“If this is offensive, then it is offensive,” Thuss said. “The law should be just as applicable to a 100-acre property as it is to a three-acre lot. What’s fair is fair.”

Prior to voting on the measure, several Commissioners asked for clarification from Planning Department staff that in rejecting the proposed amendment it would not continue on for review by the Clarke County Board of Supervisors. Planning Director Brandon Stidham confirmed that because the ordinance originated from a Planning Commission subcommittee rather than by a directive from the Clarke County Board of Supervisors, the measure would not continue forward if defeated.

The Planning Commissioners then voted to reject the proposal with only Planning Commissioner Cliff Nelson (Russell), in favor.

Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood), Clay Brumback (White Post) and Scott Kreider (Buckmarsh) were absent from the meeting.

Nelson said after the vote that he favored sending the measure on to the Board of Supervisors for further consideration.

Other Business

The Planning Commissioners unanimously approved a zoning ordinance change to exempt small wind turbine applications from the County’s requirement for a site plan. A special use permit will still be required.

Salvation Army attorney John Farrell addressed the Planning Commissioners related to a documentation mix-up that resulted in the wrong subdivision plat being submitted to the Clarke County Planning Commission for the Salvation Army’s already-approved 400-acre sub-division west of Berryville.

Farrell characterized the mix-up, in which four notes were omitted from the official plat, as a minor error that had been corrected. Although the deadline for completing the subdivision application had been tomorrow, Farrell said that the law allowed for an automatic extension of six month from the time that the applicant files a letter of credit with the county.

Farrell said that the Salvation Army had filed the credit letter earlier this week thereby extending the application deadline until November, 2012.

County planning staff agreed with Farrell’s assessment.

Planning Commissioner Robina Bouffault used Farrell’s appearance as an opportunity to question whether the Salvation Army had made any decisions regarding the final disposition of 71-acres contained in the subdivision application that is slated for donation to “school use.”

“I haven’t had the Salvation Army’s intentions shared with me but I will certainly pass your question along to them,” Farrell responded.


  1. Bville-Bud says:

    “I told him bears don’t use toilet paper.”

    It just doesn’t get much more clear than that!

  2. Let’s call it what it is and quit beating around the bush. These “long term campers” may very well be squatters from other countries who are living here without proper documentation. We used to call them illegal aliens and it used to be against the law for them to live here regardless of camping ordiances.

    CDN Editor: No allegations of illegal aliens were raised at the Planning Commission meeting. Three Caucasian non-Clarke County residents spoke against the camping restrictions at today’s meeting.

    • Clarke Eagle says:

      Question for the CDN Editor. Did you really expect the illegal aliens to show up and speak out against the restrictions? Laws mean nothing to these people.

      • jennifer says:

        I used to rent a spot at the family campground that is locked and gated at the bottom of the hill on the way to watermelon park. From what I could tell it was all American (for those who use skin color to determine such things), and there were a number of folks who were “long term” campers. Some may do it because they like to camp long term. Some may do it because they are homeless otherwise. But there are porta johns there so they are not squatting.

        • jennifer says:

          ….and hooray for our planning commissioners. I applaud their comments noted in the article. Very good points indeed. The need is to address the problem, not make some arbitrary rule that doesn’t do the trick.

  3. Good call by the planning commission. If people want to camp, leave them alone. If they are trespassing, littering, making noise, call the law. If it is an illegal alien issue, call Immigration. The planning commission isn’t here to enforce federal immigration laws.

  4. Red Bully says:

    Build a fence up around the river. Keep them dirty
    Humans out!!!!

  5. What is the status of VA National Golf Club? It’s June and I’ve yet to see a golfer (or anyone) there. So until the course opens, it’s a great place to camp along the river.

  6. StoneBroke says:

    I have been interested in leasing a river lot. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

  7. Reality says:

    To all the residents in denial of what goes on along the river on both sides. I suggest you take a ride on a Saturday night about 8pm. Don’t be in denial of something you never set your eyes on. Stop, look, listen and enjoy!

    I’ve been invited to one of these campsites, disgusting to say the least, people urinating all over the place, screaming, swearing and carrying on. I will not ever go back and be part of that nonsense!

    I agree with Mr. Harper 100%, don’t give up Sir keep pushing this issue.

  8. PineGrover says:

    Mr. Staelin – (Millwod) who represents the east side of the river was absent? Shocked – just SHOCKED that our rep didn’t bother to show up for a matter that concerns THIS part of his district. How did North-Eastern Clarke end up in the Millwood District anyhow?

    • PineGrover – a small correction:

      Actually, John Staelin is NOT your “rep” on the Planning Commission. You have in fact TWO reps for the Millwood district: Anne Caldwell and Jon Turkel, both of whom were at the meeting last Friday.

      John Staelin is on the PC as the liaison for the Board of Supervisors.


  9. Realistic Joe says:

    If you were invited then you knew the people. Do they act like that all the time if so, why did you go? Regardless, you ended up at a lot that would give a bad reflection regardless of where it was. Kind of like towns and close neighbors…there is always one in a bunch.

    As for the disgusting lot, there is a property owner and you would be better served by finding out and reporting the actions to them. Don’t sit back and expect Mr. Harper to fight the “ugly” of a few undesirable ruffians alone.

  10. n3utr0nRU says:

    A good decision by the commission. MANY, if not the majority of us, pay good money and are responsible with our use of river lots. Are there not noise ordinances in the county for dealing with the generators?? Landlords/owners should be made aware of leasers violating local noise and health ordinances as most Virginia rent contracts reference legal use of the property. There are tools ALREADY available to deal with these inconsiderate campers, as opposed to restricting the property rights of the majority of law abiding folks with heavy handed restrictions.