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Cities eye safety, resources as more RV parks pop up
by Dan Kleiner
Jan 04, 2011 | 1213 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A flood of housing need is following the oil and gas boom currently underway in Karnes County and across the Eagle Ford Shale.

While a few new homes, an apartment complex, and several motels are currently under construction in the area, RV parks have been the most noticeable addition to the still inadequate housing supply.

Those in the know are saying that the new year will bring even more rigs and workers to the area, and along with them will likely arrive even more temporary housing units.

The cities of Karnes City and Kenedy have approved applications for seven more RV parks in the last two months, and more than 10 more applications have been submitted in recent weeks.

In response to the rush, Kenedy City Council on December 20 voted to suspend for 90 days any acceptance, review or approval of permits for the construction of RV parks in the city or its extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

Karnes City has no zoning requirements within its city limits; however, City Administrator Larry Pippen is also taking a long, hard look at applications submitted to his office.

Both municipalities are working to ensure that safety is put at a premium while also considering the aesthetics of the facilities and the communities in which they reside.

The City of Kenedy expects to have an ordinance drafted within 60 days that will more clearly lay out requirements for the increasingly visible housing units.

“In the haste to try to provide some relief in the form of temporary housing for the influx of people moving into the area, we have tried to accommodate that but have done so without a good set of guidelines to follow,” Kenedy City Administrator Ford Patton said. “Safety was a concern – to ensure that the lots are properly addressed for 911 purposes. With that then comes some of the basic infrastructure within the parks. That might include paved roads, width of streets, direction of traffic, fencing issues for privacy and screening from adjacent properties – and some that might be more related to health and sanitation. Whether or not we provide a centralized solid waste collection station, and then spacing to be certain that trailers and RVs are not put so close together that they may present an immediate hazard in case of a fire.”

The Kenedy City Council initially began discussions about an RV park ordinance at its December 14 regular meeting. At that time, council member Bob Patton, also a member of the city’s planning and zoning (P&Z) commission, said that the group had seen a sharp increase in the amount of requests to replat properties for RV parks.

Patton requested the council pass a 90-day moratorium on approval for RV park requests at that time, but the item was not on the agenda so the council held a special meeting on December 20.

During the 90-day moratorium, the P&Z plans to review similar ordinances in other communities to help gather information for an ordinance for Kenedy.

“Of course, the P&Z saw a lot of requests for replats from commercial to multi-housing for RV parks and we approved three of them,” Bob Patton said. “Then we realized that as we went back and reviewed our mobile home guidelines, really they talked about mobile homes and not RVs. So we decided to look at some guidelines for setting up RV parks. In other words, our concern was spacing in between each RV, identifying each RV. If someone has a medical emergency, how would the emergency responders know which RV to go to? Another concern was fires. If there ever was a fire, would the spacing be adequate to prevent fire from spreading to another RV? And of course the aesthetics of the RV park itself. There were several concerns there, plus the location of RV parks – residential areas were a question mark and commercial as well. Do you want all your commercial property going to RV parks or do you want some of it to stay commercial? We’re just at the tip of this iceberg as far as the Eagle Ford Shale expansion goes.”

Patton said the ordinances the Kenedy P&Z is reviewing are all from towns of similar size. Most ordinances he’s seen require a site plan to be submitted, similar to a subdivision plat. Other concerns include having an engineer perform an assessment if a property is located in a floodplain. A minimum size requirement is another possible guideline, as well providing centralized facilities such as a solid waste collection and washer/dryer hookups.

“This is something new to us,” Bob Patton said. “In Kenedy, it’s a flood of people. These guys who follow the drill bit around have a right to have a safe and secure place to enjoy their off hours. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and everyone should be entitled to a piece of the pie, but we also need to protect everybody.”

The City of Karnes City recently approved four applications for RV parks, and City Administrator Larry Pippen said he currently has four more pending approval. Karnes City has no zoning and thus is not pursuing an ordinance of its own; however, Pippen said his concerns when reviewing an application are similar to those in Kenedy.

Safety is the top priority, but infrastructure is also high in Pippen’s list.

“Our biggest problem is there is a great demand, and I think we’re going to get more as time progresses, especially since Kenedy has set its moratorium,” Pippen said. “Our concern is the availability of water. Our lines are throughout the city, but again when you place additional RVs on a 2-inch line, that creates a problem as far as water pressure. We’re particular about the areas. There are some areas, like off Highway 123 and CR 358 for instance, where right now we’re getting to the stage of being overloaded. We’re looking at that area very carefully from the standpoint of water pressure and fire protection. We currently have no fire hydrants in that area. So a question that arises is ‘to what expense does the city go through, being that this is a temporary issue and not a permanent issue?’ We’re weighing cost in being able to provide the basic services that are required.”

The Karnes County Appraisal District is also taking a look at how it addresses RV parks. The taxing entity used to treat them as commercial properties; however, chief appraiser Kathey Barnhill said her office is looking at more equitable ways to approach the increasingly popular housing option.

“We’re going to be using an ‘income approach,’” Barnhill said. “We sent out a survey to find out rates, how many hookups are available, who paid for gas and electricity. It was the only way we felt like we could come up with something fair.”

One thing is certain to local officials: The demand is expected to do nothing but increase.

“We know they’re needed,” Pippen said. “There is a tremendous shortage of housing in the area and I think it’s going to get worse come January as far as more rigs moving in. The demand for housing I think is going to increase tremendously. The citizens are taking the great opportunity to make additional funds for themselves. We just have to be careful of what we do on behalf of the city.”
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