Wellington Sends RV Rules Back To The Drawing Board

Plans for governing recreational vehicle use in Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve were once again waylaid after council members worried the changes could allow for the proliferation of the temporary homes.

After debating for more than an hour Tuesday night, council members decided to table the ordinance, which would permit one RV on 2.5 to 5 acres, two RVs on 5 to 10 acres and three RVs on properties of 10 acres or more.

Property owners would be able to use the temporary housing only for six months during the equestrian season, Equestrian Master Plan Director Mike O’Dell said.

“The equestrian community has a desired use for RVs,” he said, noting that the council had directed staff to look at a code that would allow for the use of RVs as temporary housing.

Despite being prohibited, O’Dell said that there are a number of RVs in the area illegally. Wellington staff surveyed the number of RVs in Wellington during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and found 78 last year and about 80 this year.

The Wellington Equestrian Preserve Committee recommended allowing RVs on only properties of three acres or more, O’Dell said, but the Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board recommended 2.5 acres or more.

“That was one of the major differences between their recommendations,” O’Dell said.

Councilwoman Anne Gerwig pointed out that a map provided by staff showed RVs on properties of less than 2.5 acres, which O’Dell said would not be permitted under the new ordinance.

The proposed rules would also require that all RVs be on properties with principle structures, such as a home or barn, meet all required setbacks, be screened from view, and have working water, sewer and electric hookups.

But Councilman John Greene was skeptical of Wellington’s ability to enforce the rules if people are already flouting the ban on RVs.

“We have an ordinance right now that doesn’t allow RVs, period,” he said. “Now we want to put an ordinance in place that allows limited RVs based on property size. What is going to be different?”

O’Dell noted that because RVs would be permitted under the new ordinance, property owners would be able to apply for a permit and not need to ignore the rule.

But Greene noted that code enforcement hasn’t been enforcing the current rules.

“You’re talking about a different mindset with a new ordinance in place,” he said. “Why isn’t that same mindset and enforcement being applied to what is currently on the books? That’s where I struggle.”

O’Dell noted that Wellington has long struggled to balance allowing the vehicles, even proposing an RV park and other attempts to deal with the issue.

“We’re trying to provide some guidance,” he said. “But this is a policy issue that we, as a village, have been discussing for a number of years.”

Greene asked what had been done to enforce the current ordinance.

“Have fines been issued?” he asked. “It seems like we go through this on an annual basis, and by the time we get to March and April, there’s a magistrate hearing and the residents say they will remove the RV. Well, they’re all going north. Then we get back into the cycle come October. We never seem to get anywhere, and I’m not confident that we’ll be able to put an ordinance in place that will make enforcement any better than it is today.”

Further, Greene worried the ordinance would just increase the number of RVs, and other council members shared his concerns.

Vice Mayor Howard Coates noted that many of the properties with illegal RVs wouldn’t be allowed to have them under the new ordinance. “The ones that are violating now would continue to be in violation,” he said. “I have the nagging question of why would we allow the proliferation of RVs at all.”

Coates said he was generally in favor of RVs but worried that the ordinance could allow the problem to get out of control.

“I do think there is a need,” he said. “I think we need to address the problem, but I don’t think you do it by allowing the expansion into the entire [Equestrian Preserve].”

Coates was especially concerned about communities north of Pierson Road.

“The developments begin to get radically different,” he said. “Then you allow the creeping of RV usage north of Pierson. At some point, you’re going to get a lot owner somewhere else who asks why they are being treated differently.”

But Gerwig said she felt it could be manageable with rules governing setbacks and screening of the vehicles. “Even though they may be smaller farms, they have trainer and staff,” she said.

Village Manager Paul Schofield said both committees had done a good job crafting the ordinance at the council’s direction.

“But at the end of the day, it’s a policy decision,” he said. “That’s something that we will have to collectively decide.”

Greene asked Schofield for his professional opinion on the matter.

“RVs are a part of the equestrian lifestyle,” Schofield said. “We need to recognize that and find a way to accommodate them. But I think they should be accommodated centrally, and not spread out through every available lot.”

Schofield noted that there is the possibility of having more than 1,600 RVs in Wellington under the proposed ordinance.

“I believe they do have a true need to have trainers and staff on their farms,” Schofield said. “But I believe that’s something that should be considered in the design of the property.”

He noted that the PZA Board suggested allowing RVs for only two seasons before a property owner would have to come before the council for a permit.

“It addresses the problem, and gives them the two years,” he said. “But it doesn’t make it a permanent issue.”

Gerwig agreed, noting that she’d like to see residents build permanent structures.

During public comment, residents were divided on whether they’d like to see RVs allowed.

Wellington Chamber of Commerce President Victor Connor said he was in favor of the ordinance, noting that it is a safety issue for horses to have someone on the property.

“These are very valuable horses,” he said. “This is a safety issue. They want someone by the barn so if anything happens in the middle of the night, somebody is there.”

James Whisenand, a Palm Beach Point resident, was opposed to the RVs.

“It can’t be enforced,” he said. “Whoever comes for six months is gone. Who are you going to enforce it against? The owner? The occupant?”

He noted that his community has 53 five-acre lots that would be allowed two RVs each. “That’s 106 RVs in about a six-block area,” Whisenand said. “That doesn’t make any sense. That’s an RV park.”

Mayor Bob Margolis said it was evident that more discussion on the matter is needed.

“There is a safety and security issue for owners and grooms to be close to their horses,” he said. “My fear is that next year at this time, there will be a proliferation of [RVs].”

Margolis suggested that the council table the matter and get more information.

“I think this is unenforceable,” he said. “We can’t enforce it now, and we’re going to set ourselves up for more unenforceable applications. There are so many concerns that I’m uncomfortable even passing this through first reading.”

Council members agreed unanimously to table the ordinance.


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