Camping in your backyard, living in your RV, and owning lots of cars could get a lot harder in the Spokane Valley – The Spokesman Review | Gmx Pharm

Spokane Valley could soon crack down on people who own more than five cars, camp on private property or live in RVs, but some say the move would be cumbersome and clash with the city’s laissez-faire identity.

The Spokane Valley City Council will vote Tuesday on proposed changes to the city’s nuisance laws, a set of rules designed to prevent real estate from becoming dangerous to public health or aesthetically unattractive.

If council members agree to the changes, it will be illegal to camp in a backyard as an adult, live in RVs for more than 30 days, and leave a large collection of cars outdoors.

City councilors have been working on the new laws for more than a year. The primary intention isn’t to improve the neighborhood’s aesthetic, they say.

“We are talking about extremely uncomfortable public health issues and disease,” Councilman Arne Woodard said.

The Spokane Valley harassment code already contains many prohibitions.

A homeowner cannot paint their own house. No one can sell more than three yards in a year. It is illegal to leave an uncovered hole in a lawn if it poses a “hidden hazard”. Unless it’s invisible, a homeowner can’t have a broken plane, sofa, or refrigerator in their front yard.

But even with this laundry list of harassment codes, the city keeps coming across properties that anger neighbors without breaking the letter of the law. Neighborhood anger is often directed at homeowners who have many cars, live in RVs, or allow camping on their land.

The proposed camping change initially caused outrage at a city council meeting. The original language would have banned camping stays longer than 48 hours and limited a property to four camping sessions per year.

“I’ve never heard anything so stupid. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves,” Dan Allison told the city council on June 14. “This is Spokane Valley.”

Allison told council members that he strongly opposes any law that prevents children from having fun in their backyards during the summer.

The staff’s second attempt at the draft regulation uses less specific language.

It would make camping illegal, except for “periodic short-term use of a tent for recreational camping purposes by underage children when a parent or legal guardian is the primary residence of a lawfully constructed habitable dwelling on the property.”

City council members did not raise many concerns about the revised Camping Act. But they don’t all agree when it comes to the RV change.

If accepted as in writing, homeowners may only have one RV on their property. City officials said that life in RVs often becomes a public health issue when individuals dump their holding tanks onto the ground.

Anyone wishing to reside in an RV or have a guest in one on their property must obtain a temporary occupancy permit from the city. This permit would be valid for 30 days and a property owner could only get one per year. City council members have suggested that $25 would be a reasonable number.

City Attorney Cary Driskell said the purpose of the permit was not to generate revenue. It would allow the city to track how long a person lives in an RV. Living in an RV is already illegal in the Spokane Valley, but employees have a hard time enforcing the law.

The ordinance allows people to stay longer in RVs when their home is under construction and also lets the city manager adjust the rules in the event of a quarantine or other emergency.

Councilwoman Laura Padden questioned the need for the RV Act. Having more than one RV doesn’t automatically make someone a nuisance, she said. Neither does life in a mobile home.

“I think we need to focus on the serious issues like crime, security and health — which are legitimate areas for government action,” Padden said.

Councilor Ben Wick said he was in favor of imposing more restrictions on people living in motorhomes as the situation posed a health risk, but he shared some of Padden’s concerns, calling the motorhome proposal “too invasive”.

A private owner shouldn’t be limited to an RV, he said, adding that he believes some residents of the valley are likely to escape to their RVs in the summer because they don’t have air conditioning.

City council members are also divided on proposed vehicle restrictions.

Under the new regulation, real estate would be limited to “a total of five operational vehicles on a property with a single-family home”. The law provides an exception for properties with more than five licensed drivers.

A property owner could have an RV and a “ship on a licensed trailer” in addition to the five operational vehicles.

Spokane Valley is also about to change its end-of-life vehicle law.

The city currently allows a private property owner to own two junk vehicles so long as they are “completely hidden from view by manicured landscaping, a manicured landscaped berm, or a fence.”

Under the new regulation, property owners would be limited to one junk vehicle or one unregistered vehicle. The limitation does not apply if the vehicles are placed in a “lawful structure” and shielded from outside views.

Wick said he was mostly against the proposed vehicle restrictions. Having lots of cars doesn’t appear to be a health risk, he said.

“It just seems wrong to me,” Wick said. “We’re positioning ourselves so that those who have garages can have more cars and those who can’t afford a garage can’t.”

Allison said during a July 12 meeting that he opposed the vehicle restrictions.

“They may not be sitting in an appropriate place where the city wants them to be seated,” he said. “But this is America, man. This is our property. You can’t come onto someone’s property, tell them their stuff is junk and have them towed away.”

John Harding, a regular attendee at Spokane Valley City Council meetings, said he appreciates the intent behind the proposed changes. At the same time, he called them deeply flawed.

“If you don’t affect someone’s senses — their smell and their sight and their sense of hearing — live and let live,” Harding said. “I’m sad that this concept is coming to the Valley. I expect it in town. I expect it in Seattle and other places. But not here. Damn, that’s a mistake.”

Woodard said he supports the changes but stressed he sees them as an unfortunate necessity.

“In general, I don’t care if you paint your house or if your grass is a foot up,” Woodard said. “You want to devalue and devalue your property that way, that’s your choice as an American.”

But an owner’s rights must end when they start infringing on the rights of others, Woodard said. He said the city’s laws should have “some semblance of reasonableness” and protect public health.

Chemicals can leak from idle cars, contaminating soils and threatening water supplies, Woodard said. He also said these cars can become havens for rats, skunks and other animals that carry disease. Rodents can attract predators.

“A coyote in your neighborhood is not a fun thing,” Woodard said.

Councilwoman Brandi Peetz said she believes the city needs to tighten its harassment laws.

“We have speed limits. We have seat belt restrictions. We have things that we don’t necessarily want to do, but at the same time it’s about the health and safety of our community,” Peetz said. “Some people ruin it for everyone, so you have to have rules.”

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