Lake City, Fla., Lifts Wal-Mart RV Parking Ban

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February 9, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

The RV community spoke and the city of Lake City, Fla., listened.

Signs posted at Wal-Mart that announced “No RV Camping or Sleeping Enforced,” were removed on Thursday (Feb. 3), the Lake City Reporter reported.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” said City Manager Wendell Johnson.

The city of 10,000 is located off Interstate 75 near the north entryway to the Sunshine State.

Previously, a flood of letters and e-mails were sent to the Lake City Reporter, as well as Johnson, opposing the enforcement.

A letter was sent to Lake City Wal-Mart District Manager Michael Brown that morning stating, “You are in no way obligated to have these signs posted and may remove them at your convenience.”

The signs were first displayed in January after the city was asked to enforce its law by the Columbia County Tourist Development Council (TDC).

According to Section 4.2.16 of the city’s Land Development Regulations, “No major recreational equipment shall be used for living, sleeping or housekeeping purposes when parked or stored on a lot in a residential direction or any other location not approved for such use.” Columbia County has an identical regulation.

The issue of RV camping has been ongoing for more than three years, Johnson said. It was first brought to his attention after becoming city manager in 2009.

It came up again at a TDC meeting in October, and Johnson contacted the Wal-Mart manager to discuss a possible solution which led to the signs being posted.

There was a tremendous reaction from the RV community, locally and nationwide, once the signs went up, Johnson said.

“For the most part it was negative,” he said. “It cast a terrible reflection on Lake City.”

Based on the feedback, he and Mayor Stephen Witt felt something had to be done, Johnson said.

“We thought the best thing to do would be to take (the signs) down,” he said.

A letter was sent July 7, 2009, from the TDC to the city which represents its thoughts, said Harvey Campbell, executive director. Either the ordinance should be enforced or taken off the books.

The TDC has no intention of pushing the issue any further either way or to criticize the city, he said.

“The city has taken an action it believes in the best interest of the community and we support that,” Campbell said. “We’re ready to move on.”

Already, calls have come in from RVers with positive comments, Johnson said. Overall camping at the store has never been a problem.

The intent of the law is to keep someone from living in unauthorized areas, he said. It wasn’t intended to prohibit RVers from stopping at Wal-Mart.

“We as city leaders have to be wise in interpretation of the law,” he said. “The law has a spirit and intent to prohibit conditions contrary to public interest.”

It is not a problem with him for RVers to stop in the city to stretch their legs, catch a few hours napping and visit local businesses, Johnson said.

“It’s difficult to please everybody,” he said. “Looking at what would be required and what has been asked to enforce the law creates a condition contrary to the best interest of the community, and not just Lake City but Columbia County.”

The law can’t be done away with because it will create problems and people will take advantage of the situation, he said. “We’ve got to have some standards,” Johnson said.

If there is a problem with someone camping for an extended number of days, the law will be enforced on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Suggestions are welcomed if someone thinks there is a better way to handle the situation, Johnson said. Putting the signs up created a worse problem.

“We want RVers to view Lake City as a friendly place to stop,” he said. “We don’t want any tourists coming through thinking we’re unfriendly.”

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