Proposed RV park plan rejected

A request for a special exception to the city’s zoning code that would have allowed a recreational vehicle parking area to be developed on South Fifth Street was denied after a lengthy hearing Wednesday by the Marietta Planning Commission.

But commission members said the decision could have been easier with some guidance from city code which does not directly address RV parking in town.

The request was made by Beverly resident Keith Thomas who owns the three-parcel lot at 205 South Fifth St.

“My lot is zoned C-3 commercial and there is no written code regarding RV parking in the city,” he said at the beginning of Wednesday’s session.

Thomas noted that Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations basically prevent him from building a permanent structure in that area, which is located within the 100-year flood plain.

“An RV park far outweighs anything I can do there because of the flood plain regulations,” he said. “So I’ve proposed parking four high-end RVs there as the most logical use for my property.”

Thomas said he’s been attempting to establish an RV parking area on the property for 14 years now.

“I just want to use my property. I pay taxes on this property,” he said.

Randy Barengo, who was among approximately 30 people who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said he co-owns, with his brother, an insurance business on property that is adjacent to the lots where Thomas is seeking to develop the RV parking area.

Barengo said other city property owners have also approached the planning commission about establishing RV parks.

In 2011 Jerry Donahue was granted a special exception to develop an RV park on property he owns in the 100 block of Montgomery Street, and that same year local business owner Clyde Huddleston was also permitted to establish RV parking on his land along South Seventh Street.

But Barengo noted both of those properties were formerly mobile home parks that had been flooded in 2004 and were not located directly adjacent to residential areas.

He added that there are hundreds of vacant lots similar to the Thomas property where RV parks could be located.

“Imagine if all of those would be leasing RV space. This is not in the city’s best interest,” Barengo said. “There are those who believe people ought to be able to use their properties without regard for how it would impact neighbors. I disagree, and ask you to vote against this request.”

Others who asked for defeat of Thomas’ request included Scott Cantley, president and CEO of the Memorial Health System, which is developing a series of medical office facilities along Wayne Street in the city’s south end.

“The health system is making significant improvements in that end of Marietta,” he said. “My concern is if this request is granted we’re headed down a path that will open other areas (for RV use).”

Fred Smith, physical plant director for Marietta College, said the institution had invested more than $5 million to improve Don Drumm Stadium, one end of which is located along Hart Street, about a block from the lot where Thomas wanted to develop his RV parking area.

He said the college also intends to connect that property with the Marietta River Trail shared-use pathway that runs through the south end area.

“This non-conforming use of adjacent property would adversely affect that area,” Smith added.

Among Thomas’ supporters was Marietta Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, who said the city’s zoning code does not address RV parking areas.

“The problem is that the zoning code addresses construction of buildings, but it doesn’t suggest anything if you’re not putting up a building in a commercial zone,” he said. “If Keith Thomas is not constructing a building, I’m not sure that he even needs a special exception variance for an RV parking area.”

McCauley added that FEMA regulations severely limit what owners of property located in the flood plain can do.

“If Keith keeps people using the RV park in line, I have no problem with it,” he said. “And these people would be paying more city taxes.”

Bartlett Street resident Diane Crandall told Thomas he was outnumbered.

“There are too many people here against you,” she said. “But we’re not doing anything to bring people into this city. (Thomas) is trying to provide a service that will bring people here.”

We have to start thinking about the little guys and have to be fair to everybody.”

But city council member Harley Noland, D-at large, said the planning commission should consider why the city has zoned areas.

“Our forefathers created zoning to protect the use of certain areas of the city so that people moving into those areas would know what to expect (in future development),” he said. “There’s a need to consider uniformity of uses in zoned areas, but granting variances for those locations basically kicks a hole in the city’s zoning code.”

Noland asked the planning commissioner to not grant the special exception for Thomas.

After allowing anyone who wanted to comment on the issue to speak their minds, Mayor Joe Matthews, a member of the planning commission, called for a vote on the motion to approve Thomas’ special exception request.

The motion failed on a 4-1 vote, with Matthews, city Assistant Safety-Service Director Bill Dauber (standing in for Safety-Service Director Jonathan Hupp), and commission members Jeff Campbell and Chip Wilson voting against the measure.

Commission chairman John Paugstat cast the lone vote in favor of Thomas’ request.