Campground Owner Loses Zoning Battle
The Carter County Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals upheld Planning Director Chris Schuettler's decision to force CRM Holdings, owner of an RV campground at Cove Ridge Marina in Butler, Tenn., to conform to setbacks, the Elizabethton Star reported.
The decision hinged on a deck located on one of the campsites within the campground on the Cove Ridge Marina property. The zoning regulations require a 7 1/2-foot setback between an "accessory structure" and the property line, and a 12-foot setback between a structure and the property line.
Charles and Pat Middleton, who own a tract of unoccupied property adjacent to the campground, claim that the deck is within the setback distance of their property.
The board first heard from attorney Michael McKinney, representing CRM, who pleaded the firm's case, basing the appeal on a letter received from Schuettler demanding conformance to the setbacks outlined in the county's zoning ordinance.
McKinney said the whole issue rests on whether a non-covered, non-attached, non-permanently installed deck on concrete blocks can be defined as an accessory structure, and an RV camper can be considered a structure, as defined by the county's zoning laws. He said the issue should have been already decided in a previous appeal, when it was decided the campground property was "grandfathered," having satisfied the non-conforming use statute. McKinney said Carter County did not have campground regulations until a couple of months ago. He pointed out that the county attorney and a state expert could not come to a clear decision on the matter.
McKinney said Tennessee state law states that zoning ordinances must be strictly construed in favor of the property owner — in this case, Cove Ridge Marina — and that the ordinance be free of doubt and ambiguities.
"Calling an RV a structure and calling a deck an accessory structure goes far beyond a rational reading of this Carter County zoning ordinance," said McKinney. "The definition of structure in the ordinance requires that an item have a fixed base or a fixed connection to the ground. Campers and RVs are not structures. They do not have a fixed base and they are not hooked to the ground."
Brad Johnson, chairman of the appeals board, said most RV campers are pulled in and used for a short period and then pulled out. However, if a vehicle is hooked up for a yearly contract, no longer on wheels but set up on blocks, as some of those at Cove Ridge are, then they should meet the setback requirements of the zoning ordinance. Johnson said a structure is any construction, production or piece of work composed of parts purposely joined together.
Asked when the deck was built, Bill Loran, who also represents CRM, said in the spring of 2010. Loran said CRM submitted a plan for the campground when construction began, and have consulted with the Planning Office continually with no problems. Schuettler made the exception of the one deck in question.
Pat Middleton said that although the campground meets the non-conforming land use ruling, she would like to have a buffer and setback between the campground and her property. She said trees they planted along the line could prove a liability if they should fall on a camper.
Schuettler said the campground fits the non-conforming use ruling, but that setbacks should have been met because the campers and RVs are primary structures and the decks are accessory structures. Therefore, the structures within the setback distances should be moved.
Johnson said the one thing that violates any of the standards is one corner of the deck that falls within the seven-and-a-half-foot setback requirement. Loran said if CRM had been approached with the request to move the deck, they would have complied.
Asked if the deck was a standard design that they intended to use in the construction of others, Loran said "No," adding that the deck was built by a contractor at the request of the RV owner, and if the owner decides to leave, the deck would be removed as well. He said the deck in question deviated from the plan he agreed to, and was not built in the location or to the specifications agreed to.
Loran said Cove Ridge Marina is a business located within an R-1 residential zone, and asked the board whether that prohibits CRM from being able to expand. He stated that when construction first began on the Cove Ridge property, there were no homes on the adjacent properties, adding that a natural buffer existed and the owners had no ill intent.
Board member Jeff Treadway, who posed several questions to the parties involved, said he was inclined to agree with the Planning Commission's decision, adding that it is supported by the R-1 zoning ordinance.
Loran reiterated that he disagreed that an RV fits the description of a structure and a deck is an accessory structure. Johnson replied that the items in question are being used in a way that can be construed as permanent structures.
Treadway made a motion to uphold the setbacks established by R-1 zoning, that CRM be required to move the deck back beyond the 7 1/2-foot limit and move or modify two campsites to conform with the 12-foot setbacks, and to comply with the ruling within 90 days. The board, consisting of Treadway, Johnson, L.C. Tester and Curtis Cannon, approved the motion unanimously.
Afterward, Loran stated that he was disappointed with the decision.
"We felt the Carter County Zoning Regulations were very clear in defining what a structure is and is not, and also what an accessory structure is and is not," he said. "I guess we will look at our options as to whether or not we will appeal this to the next level. We certainly appreciate Mr. Johnson and the commission's time and deliberation. They talked at length about this. Like I said, we're disappointed but we'll just have to see where we go from here."
The board also elected officers, as follows: Johnson, chairman; Tester, vice chairman; and Diane Cannon, secretary and non-voting member. Cannon also works as an administrative assistant in the Planning Department. Schuettler was authorized to appoint an alternate.