Florida City Sides with RV Parks on RV Parking Issue
Enforcing a Lake City, Fla., law for no recreational vehicle camping in commercial parking lots is an issue of fairness, said Cecil Shaw, owner of E-Z Stop RV Park.
“The only thing I ask is you be fair about it,” he said. “Enforce the law where RV park owners can make their money.”
Overnight parking has been an issue Shaw has battled for several years, but he is finally starting to see results, he said. Signs have recently been put up in Wal-Mart’s parking lot indicating the ordinance to RV travelers, the Lake City Reporter reported.
The decision to enforce the ordinance has elicited some negative responses from travelers to this city of 10,000 in north Florida. In an e-mail addressed to Lake City Reporter publisher Todd Wilson, Gary Campbell wrote:
“Just to let you know that I have just learned about the placement of No Overnight Parking (sign) in the local Walmart (sic) parking lot. You will be happy to know that I will not be stopping anywhere in Lake City to spend any money and I will request that any person who is a friend of mine do the same. If your town is going to be unfriendly to long-distance travellers, we are going to vote against you with our wallets. Want our money, open the parking lot. Simple as that.”
Cities from Sacramento, Calif., to Nova Scotia, British Columbia, have ordinances on the books that prohibit overnight camping, Shaw said.
Shaw sits on the Tourist Development Council (TDC) board, said Harvey Campbell, TDC executive director. He brought the existing ordinance to the board’s attention. It was in place, but not necessarily enforced.
Lake City’s Wal-Mart is conveniently located near a major interstate, Campbell said. He’s seen a range of a few to around 35 RVs camping in the parking lot over the years.
RV parks pay an occupation license fee, assessment on property taxes and more, whereas Wal-Mart doesn’t have these associated costs, Shaw said. RV park owners lose money when RV travelers park in commercial parking lots.
“We have an ordinance we have to go by and abide by just like any other company or business and they don’t have to have anything,” he said.
Most RV travelers stop at Wal-Mart to buy supplies, but they also put their jacks down, cook meals and more, Shaw said.
“It’s camping, really,” he said.
Tourists in a car make arrangements to find lodging if stopping through town to rest, Shaw said. RV parks are available just the same for overnight accommodations.
The ordinance is not just singling out Wal-Mart, said City Manager Wendell Johnson. The law affects any commercial area not designated as a campground.
Wal-Mart has been the only one allowing RV travelers setting up there, he said.
“RVs have a tendency to use Wal-Mart as campground and that’s not something the law allows,” Johnson said.
The city has no problem with RV travelers stopping at the store to take a break and buy groceries, or visit local shops and restaurants, he said. The problem occurs when they set up camp.
“If you get right down to it, Wal-Mart is not a campground,” Johnson said.
Nationally, Wal-Mart is known as RV-friendly, he said.
Wal-Mart does not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV travelers, but values and considers them among its best customers, according to the store’s website. It does permit RV parking on the store lots as it is able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space and local laws.
RV travelers are asked to contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking.
Wal-Mart is responsible for complying with the laws of the city, Johnson said. The local Wal-Mart has been very cooperative in upholding the law by posting the signs.
Several out-of-town RV travelers have contacted the TDC, saying they are going to alert their groups that Lake City is not RV-friendly, Campbell said. The travelers will no longer spend money at local restaurants and shops or visit the area.
There are examples of RV groups blacklisting a community.
“We’d hate to have people boycott the community,” he said.
Lake City isn’t the only community dealing with this issue, Campbell said. He recently spoke with the executive director of the Florida Campground Association, who indicated other cities also have similar regulations.
“It’s one tough issue with arguments on either side,” he said.
Ultimately he thinks the impact of the ordinance will be minimal, Johnson said. Eventually people will accept the law.
“People traveling in RVs know where they can stop,” he said. “We want them to stop in Lake City and they can find a place to park.”