Council wavers on RV by-law amendment following meeting

·8 min read

Eganville -- For those anxiously or hopefully awaiting a final decision on the RV debacle which began at Lake Clear and now encompasses all of Bonnechere Valley Township, the bad news is they will have to wait a bit longer, up to three more months.

On the other hand, those who want to see RVs banned around the lake will remain disappointed and those who want the status quo to stay in place and people to be able to have RVs on their lakefront property will have a few more months of grace.

“We are never going to please everybody and again, this is a divisive issue,” Mayor Jennifer Murphy concluded on Friday following a second lengthy public meeting on the issue in as many months.

This has been an emotional issue, the mayor added.

“At some point I was like ‘don’t bad mouth either side’,” she said. “You have your opinion and that is your opinion and we’re all entitled to our opinions and I certainly once again did not appreciate the personal slams on this council.”

The mayor was referring to some of the lively language used in the over 180 letters sent to council on the proposed RV by-law amendment which would not only clarify just what an RV is, but also specified four RVs would be allowed per lot in the township. Calling some of the personal attacks on council “unwarranted” she said she took some of the comments very personally.

“We have at no time admonished anyone publicly and I think it is shameful of people to make this so personal when it is a policy decision,” she said.

In the end, after what all parties have agreed had been a long five years, council opted to look at the matter still further, avail themselves of a mediator who volunteered his services and bring it back to the table in April. However, CAO Annette Gilchrist was quick to point out if there is a change to the by-law it means the process starts again with notice, a public meeting and more council deliberation.

“If there are any changes made to this by-law it is a three-month process,” she told council.

“Just to clarify, we will have another 186 letters to read again,” Councillor Brent Patrick noted.

Mayor Murphy said the wording for the next changes and public meeting would specify exactly what people could write about and it would only be about the changes. She pointed out some of the letters to council in this past round of public meetings did veer a bit off topic. However, it seems clear the by-law amendment brought to the table a few months ago is going to change before it is implemented because at least three members of council have questions on lot size and it appears some need clarification on RVs yet again.

“No matter what, we are changing this by-law one way or another,” she said.

The public meeting, held via ZOOM, was the continuation of one held last month into the issue. At that point council listened to letters – both pro and con – for three hours. This time there were less letters so council listened to the remaining letters, a few oral presentations and then began discussing what they had heard and where they wanted to go. While both Coun. Patrick and Councillor Tim Schison were adamant they wanted the by-law passed and too much time had been spent on this issue already, they were in the minority.

Councillor Merv Buckwald was the first to express his concerns, echoing what some of the letter writers had also questioned earlier. “What is a lot?” he questioned. “An acre? Half an acre? Five acres? Ten acres? We have to establish what is a lot.”

Coun. Patrick said a lot is a lot.

“It does not make any difference what the lot size is,” he said. “If you have more than four, you have to be commercially designated.”

“The amount of RVs on a lot is going to be dedicated by the lot size,” added Coun. Schison. “It is like how many cars or snowmobiles they should have.”

Both men also noted it is imperative any RV owner dispose of their grey water properly and pointed out it is illegal to dump it improperly.

Coun. Schison added he was concerned about the language used by some people opposed to RVs around the lake.

“The condescension I hear from one side is if you own an RV you are going to destroy the lake,” he noted.

As well, it is important to remember all properties in the township are taxed and vacant lots are taxed, he said. All property owners need to be treated equally, whether they pay $1 in taxes or $10,000, he added.

“Lake Clear is for everyone,” he said. “Bonnechere Valley is for everyone whether you can afford a $10 million home or your RV to enjoy the place.”

Councillor Jack Roesner brought up the issue of “permanent” RVs or semi-annual ones and stated he believed they have to follow the setbacks of any dwelling around the lake.

“It becomes a dwelling when it is hardscaped in,” he said, adding there has to be an appropriate way of dealing with waste.

He also said lot size needed to be looked at.

“People are fine if you have 100-foot frontage for one RV,” he said. “Then it does not look like an RV park.”

He said establishing lot size means there would not be “little groups of RVs all over the place” in the township.

“If you have 500, 600 feet of frontage, you have more ground,” he said. “If we pick 100-foot frontage per trailer, we are in the right direction.”

Coun. Patrick said the whole issue was establishing what constitutes an RV and anything hardscaped is no longer an RV according to the definition. (The by-law states an RV must be movable with wheels to be considered an RV.)

“If someone has a deck that is permanently attached to the recreational vehicle it negates it being a recreational vehicle,” he said.

Coun. Roesner said people need to understand RVs that are more permanent have restrictions. He added people did not have an issue with someone visiting with an RV for a few weeks, but it was the permanent RVs which were a concern.

“What you are saying is already in place,” Coun. Schison countered. “If you have anything attached or it is a more permanent structure you have to follow the guidelines of our Chief Building Official. It’s not even allowed to be hooked up to water.”

He noted there are people with very large properties who want to place an RV there.

“There are people with 1,700 feet of waterfront on Lake Clear,” he said. “Why can they not have four there?”

Coun. Patrick said the issue has been at the table for a long time and needs to be dealt with.

“You are seeing all this focus for five years on an RV issue,” he said, adding there have been many other issues like invasive species, seagulls and other waterways to deal with.

“We received letters from people complaining about someone’s 400 square foot RV but those people reside in a 4,000, 5,000 square foot home,” he said. “If you look at it in comparison their house is worth 12 RVs, so what is more detrimental to the waterways?”

Describing it as a neighbour dispute, he said it was time to more forward on the issue. As well, he said while council did receive many letters, there was also a silent majority who did not speak out but are in favour of the by-law.

Coun. Schison agreed he wanted to make a decision and deal with the issue.

“If we get into lot size, we are contradicting ourselves in defining an RV,” he said.

Mayor Murphy said there needed to be more work done.

“We need to come up with a massage for this by-law,” she said.

Coun. Patrick said it was common sense as far as lot size and it did not need to be addressed again. Coun. Schison agreed.

“I don’t see there is an issue here without stepping on people’s property rights,” he added. “If they are not out there dumping stuff (grey water) I’m not going to assume they are.”

He found some of the assumptions about RV owners insulting.

“It is I’d like a $1 million house and $1 million view but I don’t want to look at that guy because he can’t afford it and that is what it is coming down to,” he said.

Mayor Murphy pointed out a township resident who said he had no opinion on the issue pro or con had offered his professional services as a mediator. She suggested he volunteer to mediate between both sides, find some common ground and bring it back to council.

Coun. Patrick and Coun. Schison disagreed, saying it was important to move forward.

“We listened to 186 letters,” Coun. Patrick said. “We are now going to listen to a new committee. Are we going to listen to seven people in a group or 180?”

Mayor Murphy noted it was an opportunity for some mediation and possible compromise positions.

Council is hoping the mediator will have some comments coming forward for April 20 and then it would discuss the issue and prepare changes if necessary for early May for a draft by-law.

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader