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Tenn. County Grandfathers Porches/Decks

September 20, 2007 by   - () Leave a Comment

After a contentious three hours of discussion, the Sullivan County (Tenn.) Commission agreed Sept. 17 to allow long-term campers in private campgrounds to keep their existing porches and decks, according to TriCities.com in Johnson City.
The commission was scheduled to review a series of regulations governing porches and other structures in campgrounds. Porches, decks and other structures are prohibited under existing county regulations, but those regulations have not been enforced since the new zoning law went into effect in 1988.
With more than 100 upset campground owners and residents looking on, the commission agreed to grandfather in existing porches and decks. However, commissioners stipulated that to be grandfathered in, campground owners must have a state business license and be current with any county taxes and fees.
After the meeting, county officials were scrambling to see if the state even requires licenses for those kinds of campgrounds. Officials learned later that the licenses are required.
The commission deferred action on other proposed campground zoning regulations until next month, to give them more time to study the plans.
Residents who want to keep their structures pleaded for the compromise.
“Grandfathering these (decks) that are already built is the only right course for this problem,” said Patricia Palmer of Winston-Salem, N.C., whose family has a camper parked at Water’s Edge Campground.
Some campground owners retained attorney Joe Lyle, who told commissioners they are “skating on thin ice.”
Many attending were visibly upset after the commission approved the initial resolution – from Commissioner Mark Vance of Bristol – stating most of the owners didn’t have the business license.
“We’ve been railroaded. The porches are coming down,” one man said.
The commission returned after a short break and – following another hour of discussion – amended the resolution to give campground owners 90 days to come into compliance.
That vote – 13 in favor, nine opposed, one pass and one absent – even sparked a debate.
“I think it was a good compromise that worked out for everyone,” Vance said after the meeting, which lasted for more than six hours. “If the county has regulations against porches and decks and wasn’t enforcing them, that isn’t the fault of the property owners. Both sides were at fault.”
In the end, campground owner Jackie Owens of Owens Lakeview Campground said he was satisfied.
“I’m pleased with the 90 days to get in line,” Owens said. “I’ll do whatever I need to do.”
Asked if he had the business license, Owens said he “wasn’t sure.”
Albert Jones, whose house trailer is parked at Owens’ campground, was upset after the first vote, but satisfied with the 90-day grace period.
“All the man’s got to do now is ante up and everything will be good,” Jones said. “Giving them (owners) time is the only fair way to do it.”
As for the compromise, County Director of Planning and Zoning Ambre Torbett said the compromise would apply only to porches or decks on a campground as of Monday morning. She said new campground owners would not be allowed to have these structures and existing campground owners could not build new ones as they expanded their property.
Torbett said, however, campground owners could replace any porches or decks present on their property as of Monday that had been either removed by a tenant or damaged.
She is asking area campground owners to turn in new site plans, showing where the structures are located on their property. She said aerial photos of local campgrounds have also been taken to serve as a record of what is currently in place and what is not.

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