News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Detroit RV skirmishing continues

A big chunk of Detroit funneled its way into the Community Center on Tuesday, Aug. 8 for the latest battle in the city’s lengthy effort to update its development code.

The code update, begun in 2021, seemed appropriate given the changes wrought by the 2020 wildfires. The city had a grant to pay for the work, and Mcrae Carmichael of the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments to spearhead the project. It represents the city’s first complete code overhaul in more than a decade.

The code ordinance includes standards on accessory dwelling units (ADUs), setbacks, driveway aprons, vehicle and parking standards, metal roofs, airbnbs, extensions and exemptions and adds new definitions and clarifies language throughout.

But the only piece of the code work that has drawn a response from the community has been a clause that limits RVs to one per lot year-round and one additional one from April 1 to Oct. 1.

More than 25 area residents spoke on the issue at Tuesday’s City Council public hearing, part of the standing-room-only crowd of more than 50 people that filled the council chamber and bled into the foyer.

Residents opposing the RV ordinance were in the majority among those testifying, but the split was more even than at a similarly-attended public hearing on July 11. No vote was taken and councilors are scheduled to deliberate on the issue at their Sept. 12 meeting. 

Mayor Jim Trett tried to bring order to the proceedings by alternating between opponents and backers as he worked through the public testimony signup sheet, and he also gaveled into submission the audience applause that roiled the July 11 session.

Tuesday night still produced fireworks, particularly during the hearing component in which councilors asked questions of staff. Audience members often answered the questions themselves or interrupted the exchanges, leading to more frustrated gavel-wielding from Trett. 

But amid the tension and often-emotional nature of the testimony (“Give us our signs back!”) and discussions one could see potential paths to a compromise. 

The clutter and rumors about what the RV change is – one RV year-round and one seasonally – as well as what it isn’t – mandated by county or state law, appear to be gone and questions raised by Councilors Denny Nielsen, Michele Tesdal and Tim Luke provided a possible framework for some tweaks that might make the ordinance appeal to a broader spectrum of the community by Sept. 12.

Issues raised included septic requirements for RVs, whether renting an RV on a lot should be allowed, whether the size of the lot should affect how many RVs it can host and making setback rules the same for houses and RVs. A setback is the minimum distance a building or other structure must be “set back” from a street, road or driveway or any other place which is deemed to need protection.

Carmichael and city staff vowed to work on possible refinements of the ordinance for the council to consider Sept. 12.

Code enforcement also is a challenge for the city. Some who testified Tuesday suggested that the city hire a code official to work on the ATV speeding, trash and noise issues that arise in a community that banks on summer recreational visitors rather than clamp down on RVs.  

Another issue that dominated Tuesday’s public comment period was housing. Is now the right time to restrict RV use, when employers at the few businesses left in town cannot fill openings because there is no place in town for employees to live? How is the city supposed to grow and thrive without strong businesses and adequate housing for employees?

Dozens of passionate Detroit residents were on hand, voicing their views on the city’s future. Many, though, also expressed concerns about negativity on social media and that neighbors are no longer talking to each other. 

“Detroit needs a lot of help to rebuild,” said Ken Woodward, the 22nd person to testify on Tuesday night. 

“Being divided doesn’t help.”

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