The Florida RV Park & Campground Association scored two major victories for RV park owners in Sumter and Citrus counties.
In Sumter County, the association rallied enough opponents to convince the county Board of Commissioners on Tuesday (Aug. 22) to defeat a proposal that would have increased RV park property taxes by tens of thousands of dollars each year.
On the same night in neighboring Citrus County, the association helped secure county approval of a Fishcreek Glampground, a proposed campground in Crystal River that faced stiff opposition from local residents, even though studies demonstrated that the park would boost the local economy and pose no harm to local wildlife areas.
“Tuesday night was a great night for Florida’s RV park industry,” said Bobby Cornwell, president and CEO of the association. “We had victories in two counties on two major issues that had statewide implications.”
Indeed, by rallying RV park operators to write letters and attend public meetings, the Florida association was able to create the necessary show of force that convinced county officials they would be making a big mistake if they voted against the RV park industry interests, which provide significant economic support for Florida’s tourism industry.
Cornwell said Tuesday’s property tax meeting involving Sumter County Commissioners lasted until 11:45 pm before commissioners finally voted against a proposed fee increase.
“Tuesday’s vote was a big victory for all the RV park owners and businesses in Sumter County, and it was a team effort. The outcome could have been much different if we didn’t show a united force,” Cornwell said.
RV parks in Sumter County, specifically in The Villages, Wildwood, Bushnell and Webster areas, were facing a proposed $323.40 per site, per year Non-Ad Valorem Fire and EMS fee, which was part of a new proposed Special Assessment Tax for all Sumter County residents and businesses.
“The cost assessed to RV Parks was extreme and would have had a serious financial impact on the industry and all park owners, possibly forcing many parks out of profitability,” Cornwell said, noting that a 200-site RV park would have had to pay an additional $64,680 per year on their property taxes.
“We knew we would have to rally the troops and encourage all of our Sumter County members to get involved for us to be able to successfully oppose the proposal and to defeat it.” Cornwell continued, “Fortunately, we had a few key park owners, specifically Mike Wood from Breezy Oaks and Grant Gore from Oak Alley, who took charge and helped coordinate efforts with our association and their legal team. In addition, many park owners wrote letters of opposition stating why the current proposal was unjust and how it could be harmful to the county, to their business and to the tourism and RV park industry, including Greg Mixon from Paradise Bay, Mitzie Hodgson from Snooze & Scoot Campground, Nick Yale from Southern Sun, and many others.”
Cornwell said the County Commissioners, along with the County Administrator and the county’s outside consulting firm, Benesch, listened to the RV park industry’s concerns and read the letters from park owners and operators.
“But most importantly,” Cornwell said, “the majority of parks in Sumter County stepped up and showed up at the commission meeting on Tuesday to oppose the proposal and the methodology they used for calculating the RV park fees.”
“Every RV Resort and Campground that I’m aware of in Sumter County was represented in one way or another last evening. It was wonderful to see for the industry,” said Rebecca Morrison, a regional vice president for Sun Communities.
Cornwell added that if RV parks and the association had failed to oppose the tax increase, the RV park industry would have likely faced similar proposals in other counties.
“I want to thank Mike Wood, Grant Gore and his legal team, our legal team, and all the park owners, small and large, for participating in this effort. This is what belonging to a strong state association is all about,” highlighted Cornwell.
Meanwhile, 40 miles away in Citrus County, Jen and Dimitri Magradze were fighting to secure county approval for the proposed Fishcreek Glampground in Crystal River, which would include luxury canvas tents, primitive camping sites, and a limited number of carefully built RV sites. The vision of this “glampground” is to offer private luxury camping accommodations with a strong focus on eco-tourism, which will enhance the boat ramp and pristine facilities already in place.
“For well over a year the owners of Fishcreek, Jen and Dimitri Magradze, have meticulously planned the project to co-exist with the beautiful natural setting and to provide outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers with needed accommodations and access to the waterway without harming the environment,” Cornwell said. “But even though they had everything perfectly planned for their land, and had many local supporters and studies showing how the project would benefit the area and not harm the environment, there was a large organized effort against their proposal. Going into the meeting on Tuesday night in Crystal River we were not sure which way the vote would go.”
Indeed, the project was highly contested and brought out many distractors who claimed that any camping or RV sites would destroy the area, clog up the roadways, and attract the wrong type of clientele.
“Fortunately,” Cornwell said, “the commissioners had sense enough to look through the unfounded noise and realized the advantages a properly designed and run “glampground” would offer the community.”
Cornwell had written a letter to the Citrus County Commissioners prior to the meeting noting the positive aspects of the proposed glamping resort,
“I believe the Fish Creek Glampground will be a crown jewel that guests will be proud of,” he said, citing the proposed park’s beautiful, natural, property that showcases the natural coastline while also offering much-needed safe and eco-friendly accommodations for families and outdoor enthusiasts. “RVing and glamping are ideal for this property and I truly believe this project will only enhance and improve the area – not only for patrons of the Fishcreek Glampground, but for all businesses and residents in Citrus County.”
When Citrus County commissioners finally voted to approve the Fishcreek Glampground, Cornwell said their victory would have ramifications for RV park operators across Florida.
“The approval of this project was not only the right decision, it’s also a step forward for the entire RV park and campground Industry in Florida,” he said. “It shows how, if done correctly, and if you have the right people involved, RV and camping accommodations can co-exist with the natural environment while providing access for people to experience the wonders of our great state.”
Moreover, Cornwell said, this week’s victories in Sumter and Citrus counties highlight how important it is to have a strong united association and how imperative it is for all RV park owners and operators to be involved with their local politics.
“Get to know your commissioners and keep an eye on every meeting and agenda item,” Cornwell urged, adding, “Be watchful for anything that may affect your business — especially when it comes to zoning, taxes, fees and special ordinances. Our association will continue to help and will be increasing our ‘local issues monitoring as well through our state legislative services.”