I attended the March 25, 2022 Camden County Commission meeting at 10:00 a.m.
All Commissioners were present.
It was a pretty full house which included attorney Greg Williams who has been drafting the technical revisions of the Unified Land Use Code (ULUC) for Camden County.
Before we start, I’ll provide a little backstory on this meeting. There was a recent Camden County court decision wherein the judge ruled that a property owner could not have short term rentals at their property. For those who don’t know the term, short term rentals are generally vacation rentals that are rented out by the owners to vacationers who usually plan to stay from one day to a week. I provided some of the details, including a copy of the decision, in this previous post:
This obviously alarmed property owners who purchased homes for the purpose of renting them short term. There were also concerns that one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in this case was Zane Williams, the son of the attorney who was writing the revisions of the ULUC.
A Commission meeting was scheduled for March 21 at 4:00 p.m. with an agenda item titled “Short Term Rentals.” I complained that this was a violation of the Sunshine Law since there hadn’t been 24 hour notice of the public meeting. Fifteen minutes later, the Commission meeting was postponed and a new Commission meeting was scheduled for March 25. This time, the agenda item was described as “P&Z Revisions.”
Commissioner Hasty led off the meeting by stating that this was going to be “an open work session before the public.” I’ve never heard him use that phrase in the year that I’ve been attending Commission meetings so I wondered what that might entail. Maybe he meant that this was the first “work session” that the public was going to allowed to observe.
First off was Public Comment.
I’m going to summarize public comment to save some unnecessary length. Reading this would seem like that’s hard to believe, but it was a LOOOOOONG meeting.
There were complaints to the Commission about the way agenda items are described and posted online. It’s a disservice to the community. (I swear this commenter wasn’t me, but I agree.)
Several homeowners complained about their terrible experiences living next to short term rentals. They purchased their homes in quiet R-1 owner-occupied neighborhoods and the houses neighboring them were subsequently converted into short term rental properties. They have experienced loud, crazy, late night, over-crowded parties. They’ve had drunk bachelor party renters yelling lewd comments at their daughter and other family members, been “flashed” by renters, and had their lives threatened by them. One man said a short term renter even confessed to a murder while being recorded by his video cameras. The Sheriff’s Office told him the guy who confessed was probably drunk.
They’ve tried to seek solutions to these issues through the Sheriff’s Office and local government, but nothing has been done about it. The problem, put simply, is that some short term renters have no respect for the neighboring residents, treat this area like it’s their last day on Earth, and there is no effective mechanism to address the issue.
Offering a different perspective, one commenter mentioned that short term rentals are a critical part of our local tourism economy because there aren’t enough hotels to accommodate all of the vacationers.
There were concerns raised about potential conflicts of interest because the attorney revising the ULUC is simultaneously involved with land use legal actions involving the ULUC. Commissioner Hasty said that any attorney in this county would probably have some kind of conflict on this matter.
Nobody is sure which version of the ULUC is currently in effect. Which sets of revisions have been approved? There was a suggestion that a committee of invested citizens be appointed to suggest revisions to the code. Attorney Greg Williams later opined that the Planning and Zoning Commission serves in this role.
Commissioner Hasty stated the Commission has said over and over that they are open to suggestions to change the ULUC. He claimed that only one person has made a suggestion for a change to the ULUC.
(I’ve also noticed that the Planning and Zoning Commission often is referred to as the Planning and Zoning Board. I believe its actual name is the Planning and Zoning Commission, and I think it technically is supposed to be called the Planning Commission, but that’s a topic for a later discussion. I only mention this to avoid confusion because I will refer to it as the Planning and Zoning Commission.)
Another commenter stated that many of the short term rental owners purchased their properties because they could be used for short term rentals and their could be legal repercussions if Camden County passed an ordinance that restricted that use.
Commissioner Williams acknowledged that they needed to find a way to deal with these issues, especially for party homes that pack renters past reasonable occupancy. He mentioned something called a “Good Neighbor” policy and described how it works. If a homeowner doesn’t live within Camden County, but has a short term rental, they would have to have a point of contact who could be called to respond to the property within thirty minutes if there was an issue with it.
Possible solutions suggested by other commenters for the homeowners who were having problems with out of control renters were forming an HOA or complaining to the listing service to get the property removed from their rental lists.
Commissioner Williams stated that he worked with some MU Extension students in the past who conducted research on the potential number of short term rentals in the lake area. They estimated there are between 10,000 to 20,000 active short term rentals. I had to laugh at those numbers because that range is pretty broad and doesn’t sound very scientific. I guess I could estimate there are between 1 and 20,000 short term rentals and be pretty confident I was right.
This concluded the formal part of Public Comment.
Attorney Greg Williams then spoke before the Commission. Per Williams, the 2022 ULUC revised code was adopted by the Commission in October of 2021. He was retained by the Commission to make additional revisions.
These revisions removed the lakefront setback. (Of course, homeowners need to be aware they still need to comply with Ameren setbacks.) Technical revisions to the ULUC were then drafted based on input from Kim Willey, the Planning and Zoning Administrator. The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended these revisions be sent to the Commission for approval. These 2021 technical ULUC revisions were tabled by the Commission.
These revisions include definitions, revisions to the complaint process, and clarification on townhomes.
A second set of revisions has been discussed at the Commission level, but not not with the Planning and Zoning Commission. These include the authorization for tiny homes and corrections to the size of B-1 and B-3 lots.
The first set of revisions (The 2021 ULUC Technical Revisions) are ready for the Commission to vote on. The second set needs to be sent to the Planning and Zoning Commission for public hearing.
Greg Williams said that there is an older draft revision that would have addressed occupancy limits. These were prepared upon a request from the previous Commission because Missouri was considering a law to regulate short term rentals. This revision would only have an impact on short term rentals. The revision would limit occupancy to two people per bedroom and parking to available space on the property itself. This was only a draft and was never approved by the Commission.
Williams also discussed the recent court decision. According to him, there is nothing in the ULUC that addressed vacation rentals.
Commissioner Hasty said that they received a legal opinion that the ULUC is a permissive code. He said that if something in the code is not specifically excluded, then it is acceptable use.
My understanding is that being a permissive code means that the ULUC lists those uses that are permitted. Uses that are not specifically listed are prohibited, but I am not an attorney so feel free to look up the definition of a permissive code on the internet for yourself.
Attorney Greg Williams opined that since the recent decision was a circuit court decision, it did not set a precedent and was not binding on other property owners. It only applies to this particular case. In this case, the property owner’s use of the property would have fit the ULUC definition of a boarding house. This is classified as a commercial use and would not be allowed in a residential property.
Commissioner Hasty expressed his concern that the court decision might cause issues and wanted to “clean up the language” in anticipation of an appellate decision. Greg Williams disagreed with him and said it was unnecessary.
Commissioner Gohagan asked if they could hear from the Planning and Zoning Administrator. She was concerned that Item K which was part of the 2022 ULUC allows “the renting out of one room within a single family dwelling residence as long as the room does not constitute a separate dwelling unit to not more than two persons who are not part of the family that resides in the residence.”
This would seem to conflict with the ruling of the judge and makes one wonder what copy of the ULUC the judge reviewed to make his decision. It seems even the judges may be confused about which version of the ULUC is in effect.
(Edit: At the meeting, Commissioner Hasty had stated the current version of the ULUC would be the land use code that applied to the judge’s decision. It turns out that this is not the case. The judge would actually rely on the land use code version that was in effect when the plaintiffs filed suit.)
And then we just moved on.
Some of the potential ULUC technical revisions that were discussed by the Commission at this meeting included:
Commissioner Hasty proposed two revisions to the ULUC:
Adding a definition of an HOA and a short term rental.
Giving the ability to an HOA to restrict short term rentals.
Attorney Greg Williams was concerned that the above revision might be beyond the scope of what would be included in a zoning code and it might be better suited to a restriction applied by a county ordinance.
Greg Williams then reviewed some more proposed technical revisions and asked for any additional requests for revisions:
Removing impervious cover restrictions and lakefront setback requirements for B zoned property (commercial property.)
Defining “lakefront” for the Board of Adjustments.
Tiny home requirements. This has been a revision that Commissioners Williams and Gohagan have both advocated for. It’s one aspect of the Commission’s push to provide opportunities for more construction of affordable homes at the lake.
They wanted to remove the requirements in the revision that tiny homes would be required to construct a storm shelter. Kim Willey (Planning and Zoning Administrator) suggested the size of tiny homes be increased to a range of 100 to 679 square feet.
Commissioner Hasty asked if the size of a proposed home should dictate the minimum lot size for the home? This would include 10 foot side setbacks, a 25 foot front setback, and a 15 foot rear setback.
Kim Willey said the definition of spot zoning and lot depth should be removed.
The Commission discussed revising the minimum lot size from 8500 square feet to 5000 square feet.
There was a lengthy discussion regarding sceptic restrictions for properties that are less than 3 acres. They must be approved by DNR and if the lot is nine tenths of an acre or less, DNR will insist on central sewer. Attorney Greg Williams said this was not a zoning issue.
It seems that a lot of people are purchasing land, surveying it, getting architectural plans, and then bringing it to Planning and Zoning. They are then informed that they need to get their water well and wastewater plans approved by DNR which has a a backlog of almost a year. Best advice? Get your wastewater and water plan approved before anything else.
Compliance with Missouri’s CAFO rules. Commissioner Gohagan asked a good question about whether the Planning and Zoning District agricultural restrictions were not affected by SB 391 since it was voted in by Camden County residents and not passed as an ordinance by the Commission.
Removing ULUC restrictions on fireworks tents. They already have to comply with fire district rules and state guidelines.
Another revision was to increase the time to correct a problem from 30 days to 90 days before it gets referred for prosecution. This is known as the “Beckett Revision.”
Remove the Item K that I discussed above which appears to permit boarding houses.
It was also suggested that the lot minimum width be removed. Currently, there is some confusing measurement that requires the lot to be at least 70 feet from side to side perpendicular with a bisecting line. The minimum road frontage of 50 square feet would remain. People tried to take turns guessing what strange shapes these lots could form. And my daughter says she’ll never have any use for Geometry when she grows up! Ha!
There was talk about mixed use zoning. Camden County currently uses Planned Unit Development (PUD) for mixed use. The builder submits a PUD plan that could then be approved but the PUD has to be zoned to its most permissive usage. This can create problems if the owner never follows through with building the PUD because the PUD reverts to the rezoned status after a year and you now have a property that could be zoned as Commercial or Industrial.
Attorney Williams said that Sunrise Beach solved this issue by creating mixed use zoning districts and he has some language that could allow mixed use zoning in Camden County. His version of the revision would allow a PUD to revert back to its original zoning if the PUD fell through.
Lakefront road setbacks. There is currently a 25 foot roadside setback for lakefront properties. It doesn’t take too much walking around the lake to realize this restriction might surprise some existing homeowners. It was suggested this be revised to a 15 foot setback for lakefront lots to avoid pushing homes back into the flood plain.
The Commission was eager to vote on some of these revisions, but Greg Williams cautioned that they should send the revision language to the Planning and Zoning Commission so they could review it and get public input. They would then forward the changes they approved to the Commission for approval.
Commissioner Hasty then asked that they make a motion to direct Greg Williams to make the revisions. It seemed like they could just ask him to do it, but they voted to make him do it.
Commissioner Gohagan wondered if they should reconvene a Citizen’s Committee to provide input for the ULUC. The previous one was sidelined by COVID. Attorney Greg Williams again suggested that this role is already being provided by the Planning and Zoning Commission. Commissioner Gohagan responded that the Planning and Zoning Commission is so overwhelmed with work that we might need another committee to perform this role.
Kim Willey said that amendments to the ULUC from citizens have to be filed with the Planning and Zoning Administrator. This would then be brought to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Commissioner Hasty reiterated that the Commission was open to suggestions for ULUC changes and they had received only one suggestion. Commissioner Williams then admitted he has received about five ULUC amendment requests from citizens through email. Kim Willey asked him if he could forward those to her. I’m not sure what Commissioner Williams was doing with them.
Attorney Greg Williams said he could get the proposed revisions written in two weeks. Kim Willey said she could prepare her revisions by the end of the day! The Commission then set a meeting for Tuesday to vote on the technical changes, but I wasn’t clear which revisions they were talking about. I can only assume they are revisions that were reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
And that was that.
There are a couple of things that came out of this two hour meeting that I wanted to talk about.
There is a lot of confusion about which technical revisions have been approved and which revisions are still in draft form. These proposed revisions should be drafted and then published online before they are ever sent to the Planning and Zoning Commission. There should also be a publicly available “Revision Log” that lists each revision and the dates it was drafted, approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission and approved by the Camden County Commission. This would go a long way to clear things up and would let the public know if they should attend meetings to provide their input.
Should county commissioners be able to suggest revisions to the ULUC? Currently, it’s possible for a wealthy developer or business owner to go privately to a commissioner and advocate for a ULUC change. The commissioner can then propose the revision and the public has no idea which person will benefit from the change. Some of these ULUC changes can mean millions of dollars for property owners and developers. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for that business developer to go to the Planning and Zoning Commission themselves instead of using a commissioner as a mouthpiece? As we heard from Kim Willey, this is how the process is supposed to work.
I’m fine with the Planning and Zoning Administrator suggesting technical revisions to the ULUC because Kim isn’t the person who votes to approve them. She also has a greater understanding of the problems inherent in the current ULUC because she’s constantly getting flooded with applicants seeking variances and conditional use permits. A lot of these issues have come up because the original zoning was applied haphazardly when the Planning and Zoning District was established.
Finally, I’m really surprised Camden County doesn’t have a noise ordinance that is enforced by the Camden County Sheriff’s Office. In the current state of affairs, Planning and Zoning has to call up violators and tell them to turn their music down. That’s crazy.
In LAPD, each station had a “party car” that worked on festive nights and their sole purpose was to respond to loud party complaints. They would issue a warning on their first visit. On the second visit, if the loud disturbance was still occurring, they would issue a citation to the homeowner. The citation would include the additional service costs for every officer, vehicle, and even the helicopter that had to respond to deal with the violation. It was pretty effective.