In an effort to address the county’s lack of affordable housing, the Deschutes County Commission has been looking into how to establish alternative kinds of housing, like RV parks, since spring.
The idea is that it is traditionally more affordable than a standard home or apartment, and could help stabilize people who otherwise are camping in the forest or living on the streets.
But analysis from county staff shows creating more RV spots in the rural part of the county may be easier said than done.
According to a recent analysis released last week, even expanding an existing RV park is challenging.
The barriers boil down to complications within the state land use system, according to Peter Gutowsky, the county’s planning manager.
“The seven RV parks that exist in Deschutes County were created well over 40 years ago, well before we had a state land use system,” Gutowsky said in a commission meeting last week.
The biggest hurdle to building RV parks in the rural part of the county, over which the commission has jurisdiction, is that it is considered an urban use, Gutowsky said. That means anyone trying to establish a new RV park or expand an existing one would have to get an exception from the state to be able to build in an area that is not considered “urban,” which costs extra time and money.
Other barriers exist, as well, said Gutowsky. Some of the RV parks in Deschutes County, particularly in the southern part, have shallow groundwater and would be required to submit a hydrologic report to get a water permit. If an RV park expanded, the owner would be required to bring the whole park up to modern code, which could be a costly endeavor for sites that were built before standards existed.
All of these factors together means there is significant cost up front, Gutowsky said.
There are also other requirements that limit where an RV park can be, like the fact it has to be adjacent to an existing manufactured home or recreational vehicle park, adjacent to Bend’s urban growth boundary, and can have no more than 10 units, according to county documents. Vehicles also cannot stay more than 30 days in any 60-day period.
Existing campgrounds and mobile home parks face similar challenges, according to county documents. There have been no new campgrounds or mobile home parks built in the rural part of the county in the last 40 years.
For example, if a campground was dedicated for long-term use instead of tourism, it would be considered an urban use and would need the same kind of exception, Gutowksy said.
Now, the commission is hoping to affect change through the state Legislature.
“There’s no better time than now to start these discussions,” Commissioner Phil Chang said last week.
County staff recommended the commission advocate for a change that would allow RV parks to expand without having to get an exception from the state.
The commission is also interested in seeing whether some existing RV parks in a particular zone called rural residential would be interested in using some spots as emergency housing for people who need it. A recently passed law, House Bill 2006, allows emergency shelter to be sited in this particular zone.