The motorhome revolt
July 29, 2016
Years ago, I used this space to propose a system of growth management that was both very effective and very economical. It was absolutely elegant in the way it could be adjusted almost instantly to respond to market conditions. The plan was to install an auto wrecking yard on the entrance to town, about where the Post Office is now. It was farmland at the time. The theory was that a mountain of rusty, smashed-up cars stacked right on the doorstep of town would have discouraged growth.
The response would have been, "This is a lovely little town, and I would surely build a big-ass house and spend almost one month a year here, except for that junk yard." If the market slumped and the economy began to falter, a few cars could be sent to the crusher, reducing the size of the Municipal Eyesore. That, in turn, would have reduced the revulsion factor people coming into town would experience. If things got really hot, and housing prices were getting completely ridiculous, it was easy enough to haul in some additional junk cars and stack them higher and closer to the highway. The speculators would make a hasty retreat.
It wouldn't require months of public hearings, nor complicated ordinances followed by lawsuits challenging them. The City could just decide when to add or remove junked cars from the pile, and the adjustments could be made practically overnight. Imagine trying to finance the Treasure Hill project with a junk yard next door.
Of course, like many carefully reasoned proposals, it got no traction. It takes time for people to catch up, and recognize the wisdom. Better late than never.
Now a privatized variant of this idea has surfaced. A couple of former city council members are proposing ordinance changes that would allow parking of motorhomes in our suburban neighborhoods. I didn't know the City controlled this. The HOA covenants almost universally prohibit parking anything other than a normal car or a pick-up in your driveway. No boats, snowmobiles, jet skis, trailers or motorhomes. Nothing will depreciate the neighborhood as quickly as parking big toys in the front yard. Swing sets and tree houses have been enough to send our local HOAs into litigation. But a swing set is cold porridge compared to a 45-foot long motorhome parked in the driveway.
The proposal is coming from people who have recreational vehicles that are quite suitable for the delicate sensibilities of Park City. One is a Mercedes Benz compact motorhome, the other a small Airstream trailer. The Mercedes would be perfectly acceptable in any neighborhood's covenants in the passenger van version. But add a sink, a stove, a fridge, and it becomes a threat to the peace and order of the community.
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At a time when our traditional neighborhoods are getting bought up by second home owners and turned into ghost neighborhoods of perfectly maintained vacant houses, one of the proponents said that a trailer or other stuff parked in the driveway made the place looked lived in. Lived in, yes, but by what kind of people? The deleterious impact on real estate prices has not been detected yet, but we all know it's there. Just try to imagine the feelings of a second home owner in Dallas who knows there is a trailer parked next to the vacation home they are not occupying. It must be terrifying. Even if it is an Airstream.
Where does it end? While it might be OK to have something as upscale as an Airstream parked next door (though I worry about the reflection starting fires) there are other vehicles in the market. Not everybody can buy a Prevost. What if it is was one of those little trailers with turquoise accent panels and orange shag carpet inside? Then what?
In Kamas, there is a guy who builds demolition derby cars in his driveway, right on Main Street. It's hard to find a house that doesn't have a horse trailer, camper, boat, snowmobile, or the like in the yard. Sometimes all of the above. And yet life goes on. They show incredible courage in the face of such adversity.
At this very moment, there are three tractors on my front lawn. There is no growth in my neighborhood, though my sister is thinking about building on the lot next door in a few years. I'm shopping for a combine for the side yard.
The idea of amending covenants, or simply revolting, and parking recreational vehicles in the front yard in defiance of the covenants has great appeal. It's time to fight back against soaring real estate prices and take back our neighborhoods.
I wonder how much a motorhome parked in Park Meadows would rent for in the winter? Maybe that's the solution to the seasonal workforce housing.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.