Do you want to start a RV park or campground and you want to verify what kind of zoning is required for your choice location?
Every state, county, and city institutes its own regulations and rules on structures and its general outlook. It’s generally fine to park an RV or a tiny house (because they fall under the same regulatory category – Houses on Wheel) on your land. But establishing an RV Park for campers is usually another matter entirely.
Most states and counties have restrictions against parking houses on wheels within certain zones. These laws don’t just vary by state, they vary by city and specific plots of land. For example, some parcels of land are specifically zoned for hospital or medical center use, and others are zoned for residential homes, retail centers or other purposes.
Keep in mind, however, that some zoning regulations are determined at the federal level. It’s very advisable you check for a city handbook with recreational vehicle laws and zoning laws. It will tell you where you can establish your park or where you can park your RV, and give specific rules on what counts as an RV park.
How Do You Verify the Zoning of an Area
Call the city zoning office to check on your particular property. It might fall outside of the zoning laws that prevent recreational vehicle living situations. When in doubt, ask! It won’t hurt to call the city offices to get some leads.
Local zoning is becoming more widespread and will continue to legislate larger portions of land. On unincorporated land or land without local zoning, there are still state and county laws that apply. Just because you’ve fallen outside of posted zoning laws doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still check with your county office.
Some places in the Midwest still have significantly fewer zoning laws. Setting up in San Diego or San Francisco might not work, but moving to mid-America offers more freedom with permanent RV living. For instance, Pulaski County in Kentucky still has no zoning laws.
Even though the IRC and local zoning regulations are in place, a citizen can still apply for a variance through the local planning commission to build outside the existing codes.
Procedures Involved for Zoning Verification
Though the procedure for variance approval varies with the locality, typically, you can submit a request to a zoning enforcement officer or building inspector, who then makes a decision based on a strict reading of the local zoning laws. If the permit is denied, you can appeal this decision at the local zoning board of appeal.
This board weighs the hardship that the local regulations present to you against the negative impact of the park on the neighborhood. While variance rules differ from one city to the next, the standard is often similar.
As part of the process, local governments often seek input from other members of the community in determining whether to grant the requested variance. Neighbors can become obstacles especially when they feel the project may somehow harm their own property values.
When seeking a variance, you must show a variance is necessary to allow the enjoyment of a reasonable financial return on the property. The owner must also show that the proposed use of the property will not change the spirit of the neighborhood, nor infringe on a neighboring property owner’s rights, use, or enjoyment of his own land.
If you are looking for alternatives, these states listed below have the most progressive zoning regulations, or they are home to the most interesting RV park projects.
Zoning Required for an RV Park or Campground
California is known as one of the best states for outdoor enthusiasts. In the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Sacramento, and Sonoma, RVs are allowed as “caregiver dwellings” in the backyard of a person who needs assistance.
Just this year, Fresno city zoning approved RV as backyard cottages without the requirement for the RV park dweller to serve as a caregiver. Los Angeles has proven to be less progressive. Earlier this year, the city agreed to return tiny homes on wheels that were built for homeless people and seized by the police. But the mayor said he didn’t support the concept of a park.
There are a few towns in Colorado that have been open to RV zoning amendments. In 2013, Walsenburg became the first town in the state to amend zoning regulations for RV parks between 120 and 600 square feet. In the mountain town of Durango, an ordinance to allow ADUs in the East Animas City neighborhood was approved in 2014.
One of the most progressive tiny housing zoning ordinances in the country was approved in Rockledge, Florida, two years ago. A citizen-led initiative led the city to consider two appropriate zoning districts for RV parks: redevelopment mixed use district (RMU) and planned unit development (PUD).
The city also added definitions to distinguish RV’s and tiny homes on wheels. Today, both are legal inside the city limits within two zoning districts that include community use. The Rockledge Community will be a Pocket Neighborhood with homes ranging 150 to 700 square feet around shared park space.
In 2017, a Nantucket resident started pushing for an amendment of the town’s zoning bylaws for residents to start building tiny and driving RVs. The state’s attorney general office approved an amendment that now allow new residential construction under 500 square feet in several districts.
(These residential homes would need to included water, septic and electricity hookups and fitted to fixed foundations due to hurricane concerns.) Nantucket officially became the first Massachusetts community to approve zoning that specifically allows for RV parks.
A tiny house population designed to house low-income residents is now under construction in Detroit. It is the first project of its type in the city, and required a community organization to work with the city on the appropriate zoning to build homes between 250 and 400 square feet. The first phase of construction is expected to wrap this fall.
New York City’s first micro apartment building opened to residents this year. In effect, the mayor’s office has relaxed zoning restrictions so that developers can now include apartments under 400 square feet in new development.
While tiny cabins can be found throughout more rural areas of the state, no towns have officially adopted more lax zoning rules to allow for RV park construction. RV parks that have made news in New York recently—three 160-square-foot modern “Getaway” cabins that can be rented out—are on wheels, meaning they would be registered as an RV.
Consider Portland the best major city for RV parks. The city allows for, and supports, the construction of accessory dwelling units. The allowance has allowed for everything from tiny house communities—in which a collection of tiny homes surround a larger structure—to a RV parks.
Two years ago the town of Spur, Texas declared itself the tiny house capital of America, with the local government voting to do away with nearly all building restrictions.
The town has since attracted RV Parks, who must submit their park design for approval and agree to connect to the electrical grid, water supply, and sewage system. Houses on wheels must also be placed on concrete foundations due to tornados.
Rules on ADUs were recently relaxed in Austin, and in Fort Worth, the planning commission is flexible with ADUs so far as they meet the city rules. Dallas regulates that ADUs can only be built via a special exemption. Texas also has what’s known as “unrestricted zoning ordinances.”
While these sort of homes are increasingly popular, some local and state governments have not kept pace with the popularity.
In some areas, the local residents are opposed to tiny homes entering their area. If you have decided that you want to construct a park, be aware that many areas have more lenient or favorable requirements for permanent parks on foundations than for homes on wheels.
Before purchasing an existing park or building your own park, take the time to thoroughly research and understand all applicable zoning ordinances and codes. While it may initially seem stressful and confusing to find the right place, be rest assured that the effort will be worthwhile.
Many others have already gone through this preliminary research and planning process, and they are happily enjoying the results.