By Linda Cicoira
A decision to change an ordinance regarding travel trailers that are used as residences in Accomack was put off by county supervisors Wednesday night for further clarification.
The proposal was aimed at giving the Board of Zoning Appeals more leverage when putting time constraints on people who want to live on their property with a temporary special use permit while a house is being built. During the session, the supervisors learned the appeals board already has the ability to put limits on travel trailers.
The issue arose in October when complaints were made at a planning commission meeting. “It seems that there is widespread non-compliance with zoning ordinance regulations throughout the county,” a memo from the commission stated. “The Planning Commission is especially concerned with non-compliance matters that jeopardize health and safety,” the note continued.
Homelessness became a main concern of the supervisors when contemplating the proposal. The area has a shortage of affordable housing.
Ace Seybolt, a local property manager, said, “We need to encourage home-building, not increase costs.” The Mappsville man claimed a permit costs $1,000. He wanted the supervisors to consider family hardship exemptions and asked them to table the matter until the cost affects could be analyzed.
Seybolt’s business associate, former Supervisor Steve Mallette of Locustville, said the county needed to “work smarter and not harder.” While commending the board for their recent move on child care, he said, “regulating travel trailers is missing the point. People are building homes, they … don’t need an ordinance. Let them have a travel trailer for a couple of years during construction. Focus on customer service rather than enforcement.”
Mallette said there are a “greater number of people living in travel trailers because they don’t have anywhere else to go.” He reminded officials of the 30 percent poverty rate on the Eastern Shore. “People are living in hotels and all kinds of terrible places. Simplify the process … Be careful what you ask for, we don’t want to create a hardship for people who can’t afford it.”
Glen Smith, of Onancock, favored the county hiring more workers to enforce ordinances. “Travel trailers and sheds are not intended to be lived in by people,” he said.
During his 41 years fighting fires, Smith had to pull bodies out of travel trailers vehicles. “They have no way out.” A house not far from his Daugherty property collapsed and a travel trailer was put in. Then the travel trailer fell down so a mobile home was brought in. He said the scenario occurred a four-year period.
“You need to hire people to enforce the laws before you do anything else,” Smith said. He said it is not all about poverty as he has witnessed people living in travel vehicles next to their businesses.
Deputy Administrator Rich Morrison is in charge of economic development and planning for Accomack. The ordinance is not intended for campers, only for “longer-term habitation,” he said. More than a dozen special use permits have been granted for those building houses, but the work often takes longer to construct than the permit allows. He said the permits cost $400 and “do not seem to be a barrier for home construction.”
Morrison doesn’t have the staff to be evicting people. “We need to do better even on our reactive stuff. This is about things moving forward, so that they (members of the zoning board) have a time-frame to hold the line on.”
“We are in the middle of a pandemic,” said Supervisor Ron Wolff. “We don’t have staff. I travel around the county. When you see an extension cord or PVC pipe running to a travel trailer, you know something is up. Are we going to put people out of a place where they have a roof over their head? Sometimes we’re turning our heads, to allow this to happen. I think there are a lot of things that you don’t really have a full grasp on. It’s always been an issue of affordable housing. Coupled with the pandemic, we have problems,” Wolff continued. “It might behoove us to get the PDC (planning district commission) involved. There’s all this money dropping from heaven, can HUD get some affordable housing?” He suggested they take their “heads out of the sand and get a handle on it.”
Supervisor Robert Crockett concurred with Wolff. “I don’t know what this is going to do. I would like more clarity.” He said the zoning board already has the authority.