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New Dawson County ordinance spurs talk about residential RVs
Angela Byers BOC
At the BOC’s Dec. 1 meeting, Dawson County Marshal Angela Byers explains the county’s prohibition of residential recreational vehicles outside of a zoned, licensed and operated RV park. - photo by Julia Hansen

Although Dawson County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the new property maintenance ordinance as presented Thursday, there were still lingering concerns about the measure’s language for recreational vehicles or RVs.

This story continues below.

Dawson County Marshal Angela Byers appeared before the board at their Dec. 1 voting session to stress what the county’s land use ordinances already say about non-residential structures.

“The ordinance states very clearly that an RV is a non-permitted dwelling and is prohibited in any zoning. Currently the way our ordinances read, you cannot live in an RV, even at a construction zone,” Byers said.

Non dwelling structures shall not be connected to utilities and shall not be used as a dwelling in any zoning district. Non dwelling structures include but are not limited to: campers, travel trailers, recreational vehicles, motor homes, buses, and utility buildings.
Dawson County Residential Land Use Ordinance, Chapter 121-58

District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield, noting multiple complaints about non-compliant RVs, asked why those rules weren’t being enforced. 

“We’re wanting to add teeth, but what's the point if we already have it?”, Satterfield said. “Why put it (the new change) in if we can’t enforce the ordinance [now]?”

Byers noted that her office has enforced those rules over the past two to three months, particularly in response to the complaints that Satterfield noted of non-compliant RVs on the Ga. 400 corridor.

“Have you noticed they've all been removed?” Byers said to Satterfield.

“I haven't seen any lately,” District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett said, chiming in. 

“I just wanted to clarify that because I don't want anyone watching to think [the opposite]...this is something we work on daily,” Byers said. “[It’s] the fact, enforcing this piece of the ordinance, that it is prohibited to live in an RV because it is a non-permitted dwelling. I heard that at the last meeting and I wasn't here to address it.”

During the Nov. 18 voting session, BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond seemed to use the phrase “mobile home” interchangeably when discussing amending the ongoing moratorium to allow single-family homeowners to submit residential permits for their individual manufactured homes. 

“When we look at it then, I think we take a more serious look at residential zoning that encompasses multiple houses, because we’ve got some single-housing people caught up that need the attention of the board just to do their single mobile home,” Thurmond said on Nov. 18. 

Byers clarified on Dec. 1 that she didn’t want people “to get the wrong idea unless we add something to the ordinances.”

Planning and Development Director Sharon Farrell said the new property ordinance, which has been in the works for the past three-and-a-half years, addresses the renting of unfit structures and non-dwelling structures such as RVs.

“That language has been added that you cannot have an RV on any property other than one that is zoned, licensed and operated as an RV park,” Farrell said. 

“I thought we discussed that as far as residential goes if somebody’s in the middle of building a house or renovating or their home is damaged,” Satterfield said. “I thought we were just going to address commercial property with the RVs.”

Farrell recognized temporary uses like that could be allowed through building permitting, as the county’s building official has latitude to grant such permits. 

A main thing the ordinance sought to address was people living in commercial parking lots, which District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines acknowledged had a lot to do with health and safety concerns.

“It shall be unlawful for any owner, operator, occupant or any party of interest to connect a non-dwelling structure to utilities and be used as a dwelling in any zoning district. Non dwelling structures shall not be parked or stored to be used as a dwelling on any property unless the property is zoned, licensed, and operated as a Recreational Vehicle Park.. Non dwelling structures include but are not limited to: campers, travel trailers, recreational vehicles, motor homes, busses, pickup campers, converted trucks or buses, motorized homes, tent campers, tents, or other short-term housing or shelter arrangements and devices, boats and boat trailers, combinations thereof and other similar equipment, cases and boxes, and utility buildings.”
Dawson County Property Maintenance Ordinance, 44-18-E

Satterfield cautioned against having duplicity with the current and new ordinances, but Byers clarified that the rules would enforce “different things as it comes to health and wellness,” so there would be “nothing conflicting.” 

Before the commissioners voted, county attorney Angela Davis clarified that the board would leave the proposed ordinance as-is and cross-reference the ordinances mentioning non-dwelling structures and residential RVs so it would be clear that “under certain permitting you can do this.”

As he moved for a vote, Gaines acknowledged the challenges that families nowadays face when looking to build their homes in Dawson County.

“I know that it does take much longer than three months to build a house these days,” he said, “so you’re probably looking at a year basis, I would think, to give them enough time from start to finish [on a home].”