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.
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.
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.