Williston officials delay action on controversial RV ban
WILLISTON -- City commissioners here delayed a decision on a proposed RV ban after an overflow crowd overwhelmingly opposed it Tuesday.
Commissioners decided to give people 30 days to submit comments on a proposal that would make it illegal to live in a camper that is not part of an RV park.
Many opponents, including Shannon Michels, who represented Kum & Go convenience stores, told commissioners the city will lose its workforce if the ban moves forward. Seventy-three percent of her employees live in campers because they can't afford $2,500 rent, she said.
"If they make it so we can't have campers, we'll have to shut our doors," Michels said. "We have no place to put them."
Maeve MacSteves, owner of R. Rooster BBQ, said her business is thriving because of her employees she has living on her property.
"You're going to see businesses close," MacSteves warned.
Commissioners heard public comments for 45 minutes, with two people speaking in favor of the ban.
Williston resident Melissa Meyer said she lives in a single-family home that is surrounded by RVs and junky cars, including a house across the street that has become a man camp. Meyer said she's afraid to let her children play in the yard.
An apartment building manager said she has to call police to chase RVs off the property.
Mayor Ward Koeser asked for a show of hands from the audience to gauge their stance on the ban, and most raised their hands to oppose it.
Koeser, who called the proposed ban the most challenging decision in his 18 years as mayor, said commissioners understand this ordinance is going to cause turmoil.
The police department receives about five complaints per day and commissioners are trying to balance the needs of the long-term residents with the newcomers, Koeser said.
Police Chief James Lokken said police cited an RV resident on Tuesday for dumping sewage on the ground in a residential area. Police also take complaints about noise and people urinating outside, Lokken said.
Officials worry about fire hazards, particularly with several RVs parked close together.
"If one goes up, they're all going to go up," Lokken said.
Lokken estimated at a past meeting that 300 to 400 campers are throughout the community in driveways, streets and parking lots. The proposed ordinance would make living in an RV a misdemeanor and subject to a $500 fine.
Commissioner Brent Bogar said leaders recognize that most RV residents don't cause any problems.
"At the same time, it creates an impact on the city that we cannot ignore," Bogar said, adding that RV residents don't pay property taxes that support city services.
Koeser said new RV parks are going in, including one the city improved in an industrial park that will accommodate 600 to 700 units. Williams County also has RV parks in the works, Koeser said.
The commissioners will consider the comments they receive and discuss the ban again May 22. If the ban is approved, commissioners will likely give people some time to comply.
Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk said leaders are trying to figure out when the RV parks will be ready and make adequate time adjustments.
"We're not going to kick you guys under the bus, not today, not tomorrow, not next month," Cymbaluk said.
Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch.