Osoyoos council plans comprehensive bylaw to address RV parks
A large fire in a recreational vehicle (RV) park in Summerland in the spring of 2012 drew attention across the province and is a big reason Town of Osoyoos council agreed Monday to have staff prepare a comprehensive bylaw relating to alterations and taxation of RV’s in the coming months.
Council has opted to formulate a new bylaw that would look at all issues relating to RV parks within town limits as there are no bylaws or official policies that regulate RV parks or campgrounds.
Considering there are about 280 RV units at any given time, this is an issue that must be addressed sooner than later, said Mayor Stu Wells.
“This is huge … this is a provincewide problem,” said Wells, who recommended the issue of regulating RV parks be brought up for discussion at the upcoming Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) annual meeting this fall.
“This is going to create a lot of issues … and we should be looking at everything.”
In May of 2012, a fire in an RV park in Summerland drew attention to RV parks across the province and alternations as unauthorized construction and additions to RV units in that park prevented emergency responders from controlling the fire quickly, said Neil Pagett, the senior building inspector with the Town of Osoyoos during a presentation to council on Monday.
“Some of the units could not be towed away or quickly moved as required by installation standards,” he said. “Fortunately, there were no fatalities or serious injury, but the Regional District has been exposed to legal reprisal due to excessive property damage.”
Research on the subject has revealed other municipalities have bylaws in place that directly address the issue of additions and alterations to RV park units and campsites, including the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, East Kootenay Regional District, City of Penticton, City of Salmon Arm and many others, said Pagett.
“Other districts such as Summerland have developed an official policy that specifically addresses the issue,” he said.
After the fire in Summerland, municipal council in that community enforced a bylaw that required all RV owners who had made alterations and additions to tear down the units or have them removed, said Pagett.
Members of Osoyoos council made it very clear they don’t want to take such drastic measures, but do want a bylaw in place to ensure safety standards are in place.
Most of the units in Osoyoos RV parks are “park model” types that remain permanently fixed on the site year-round, said Pagett.
Park model units come in two distinct categories.
A park model trailer is a unit designed to be towed by a heavy-duty vehicle, but is of restricted size and weight so that it doesn’t require a special highway movement permit. These vehicles are built on a single chassis with permanent wheels and permanently affixed towing gear and can’t exceed 2.6 metres in width or 400 square feet in gross floor area, said Pagett.
Park model recreational units are also built on a single chassis, but they are not designed for frequent towing and have a width greater than 2.6 metres and a maximum floor area of 540 square feet. These units do need a special highway movement permit.
“Both types of vehicles are considered as recreational vehicles and, therefore, are not required to meet B.C. building code requirement for structural integrity or spatial separation,” said Pagett. “Owners of these types of units are always looking to expand the floor area and add sundecks, Arizona rooms, root structures and others types of construction and alteration.”
Although not regulated by the provincial building code, these units are subject to compliance with other Canadian Standards Association (CSA) requirement that do regulate installation procedures and towability and spatial separation on the site, he said.
“These standards must be met to ensure a level of fire safety is achieved within the park and that emergency responders have a chance of controlling the spread of fire in an emergency situation,” said Pagett.
Historically, the town has issued building permits to alter units, but most of the construction has been unauthorized, he said.
The B.C. Safety Authority has jurisdication over electrical and propane gas installation and alterations for RV units in B.C.
“They are extremely concerned with allowing alterations of RV units as the alteration of propane, electrical or structural systems will void CSA certification,” he said.
Coun. Sue McKortoff said the fact there are so many RV units in Osoyoos at any given time and no bylaw has been formed to deal with alterations and other key issues is troubling.
“This is a bit scary this whole issue,” she said. “I definitely think we need a bylaw or official policy considering we have so many RV units in our town.”
Pagett said there are “some really good things in place and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel” and he can make recommendations by looking at what other municipalities have done in forming bylaws on this issue.
Coun. C. J. Rhodes said the incident in Summerland made it very clear this is an important issue and a bylaw should be created as quickly as possible.
If a serious fire were to break out in a couple of the smaller RV parks in town that have many units extremely close together, it could result in a catastrophe, said Rhodes.
“I known of a couple situations where it would result in something like a huge block fire,” he said.
Coun. Mike Plante said it’s crucial that local RV park owners be involved in discussions with town staff in forming the new bylaw.
“We need some connection to let them know there are problems,” he said. “At the end of the day, it has got to come down to safety issues … and we need to do something. It will be an ugly day if anything serious happens.”
Wells said the bylaw should also look at RV owners who bring their units to Osoyoos and live in them year-round, but don’t pay tax as permanent residences.
“That’s the real elephant in the room,” he said. “We have people living year-round in their RVs. How do we deal with taxation issues? I think this should be part of the discussion … let’s look at the whole picture.”
Wells said any bylaw relating to RV parks should be grandfathered in and not apply to RV owners who may not have received proper accreditation to make alterations to their units in the past.
“I can’t see us doing what they did in Summerland,” he said.
Alain Cunningham, the director of development and planning, said he does believe that the B.C. Safety Authority should be brought in to inspect all local RV parks and have the authority to order upgrades to units that pose safety hazards relating to electrical and propane alterations.
After healthy debate, council agreed that senior staff should begin work immediately to formulate a comprehensive bylaw relating to RV parks in Osoyoos in the coming months.