Sioux Falls, S.D., zoning officials are moving forward with the evictions of about a half-dozen people from a campground, even though city councilors are in the process of rewriting the campground ordinance.
That ordinance limits people from staying in a campground to no more than 30 days in any calendar year. But some city councilors say that time limit is too restrictive, especially considering that many campers and RVs that use campgrounds are equipped to handle cold weather, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
The issue came to light last Monday after David Fritz, the owner of the Westwick Motel and Campground, told a council committee that he received a letter from the city ordering the removal of several campers or RVs by Nov. 23. The 30-day limit is not typically enforced by the city, and officials wrote the letter even though they know the council is working on the issue.
A new ordinance is expected to be ready for review in January.
The issue to some smacks of an overzealous city picking on the little guy.
Council Chairman Pat Costello said last week that he is awaiting more information from city officials about the problems at Westwick. But in general, Costello said a camper or RV that is suitable for 30 days also is suitable for a longer period of time.
“Absent any immediate health and safety issues, it would certainly be my hope that we lay off the code enforcement until the council has a chance to weigh in on the ordinance,” Costello said.
“Significant issues” are pending with the campground ordinance, Costello said. In the past, under similar circumstances in which the council was reviewing an issue, the city has not been aggressive about enforcing what was on the books.
Shawna Goldammer, the city’s zoning enforcement manager, said the city received an anonymous complaint about campers and RVs that appeared to be “hunkering down for the winter.” That complaint generated an inspection.
“We enforce it like any other zoning ordinance – by complaints,” she said. “We don’t have the staff to look for violations. We follow up on violations that are reported to us.”
Fritz points out that many seasonal construction workers – especially highway workers – use campers and trailers to travel to jobs. Those jobs take longer than 30 days to complete. In some cases they take more than a year, putting the city’s ordinance at odds with what’s practical.
A reporter who made an unannounced visit to Westwick on Tuesday found seven campers and RVs on the premises, including a new Fleetwood Revolution LE, which has a basic list price of nearly $300,000. The property appeared clean and orderly.
Fritz has owned the property for 13 years. But he said he sold it four years ago on a contract for deed. When that sale fell through earlier this year, he reclaimed the property. Upon his return, he said he found problems that needed to be fixed, including the removal of some junk. That was handled.
Goldammer said the city had an active complaint against Westwick earlier in the year that involved serious life-safety problems. Those problems were resolved.
“They’ve been very cooperative,” she said.
Regardless, the people there now are heading out. Dennis Nelson said he plans to move his camper to another campground outside the city, as do other residents. Nelson said he has to laugh when he hears city officials talk about affordable housing and homelessness, but then they come down on people living in campers and RVs.
“None of this is making any sense,” he said. “With all of this, it’s just not worth the problems.”
Fritz also wants out. He and his wife, Claudia, own another campground in Wisconsin, and the two want to spend their time traveling. The Westwick, which includes a home, an apartment, 24 rooms and 12 RV sites, is up for sale. The 104,000-square-foot property is priced at $715,000.
“It is for sale, yes,” Fritz said. “We want to retire. We had two people who were interested before this happened.”
There are three campgrounds in the city. Westwick is unique because it’s open year-round.
Duane Spader, who owns a KOA campground in Sioux Falls and is prominent in the RV industry, said the city risks alienating the tight-knit RV community. South Dakota is a popular destination for seasonal travelers, and Sioux Falls is a natural stopping point.
They won’t stop if Sioux Falls is known for being anti-RV, he said.
“It’s totally irrational in their thinking,” Spader said. “Those people just don’t understand what they’re doing.”