Thanks to the Columbia County commissioners who overturned the ill advice of the Columbia County Board of Adjustment and denied a permit to build an RV park on an aquifer high recharge area which was opposed by nearby residents. Refreshing news to see the environment and constituents defeat development.
Refreshing indeed, as it happens so rarely.
Thanks again to the commissioners and to Stew Lilker for permission to re-post his article from the Columbia County Observer.
Although it is not brought out in the article, OSFR’s Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson took an active role in opposition to the RV park and thanks also go to her.
Read the original article here in the Columbia County Observer.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
Columbia County 5 Invents a New Class of Citizens, “Legacy Citizens” – Then Gives the Thumbs Down on RV Park Special Exception
Posted December 20, 2020 06:00 pm
Attorney for the appellants, Terrell Arline, holds the site plan for the proposed RV Park.
Columbia County Observer Photo
COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Thursday evening, the Columbia County 5 heard an appeal of a special exception granted on a 3-2 vote by the County’s Board of Adjustment. Jesse Hubbart, a 30 year retired Navy veteran, and Elizabeth Hubbart moved to the County about six years ago and recently bought 12.75 acres to turn into a 15 pad RV campground. The neighbors in the area appealed the decision to the County 5.
On August 27, 2020, the Columbia County Board of Adjustment issued a special exception to Jesse and Elizabeth Hubbart to build a 15 pad RV park off State Road 27 a few miles north of Fort White.
The proposed RV park would be in an agricultural district, have an entrance off SR 27, have three septic tanks, an on-site campground monitor, minimum stay limits, cater to retired or the over 55 set, and have other restrictions.
At the Board of Adjustment hearing, the neighbors testified that the campground would ruin their neighborhood, their way of life, put their children and grandchildren in harm’s way, destroy and upset the environment and pollute their drinking water, and be a traffic hazard.
The neighbors got together, hired an attorney, and appealed the Board of Adjustment decision to the County 5.
The Board of Adjustment ruled the County’s Land Development Regulations and Comprehensive Plan allow for this type of Development.
However, there are exceptions, which had the neighbors at the County 5 on Thursday evening.
Attorneys Opening Remarks
County Planner Brandon Stubbs Testifies
County Attorney Foreman gave a brief rundown of the Board of Adjustment decision and the parties. He turned the appeal over to the Chairman of the County 5, Rocky Ford telling the Board that they “should feel free to make any inquiries of the attorneys.”
Attorney Foreman got it wrong. During this appeal, known as a quasi-judicial hearing, the County 5 sits as a tribunal of judges. Mr. Foreman should have told The 5 that they could also inquire of the witnesses. The attorneys are not under oath, and their unsworn statements should not be used to establish facts.
Had The 5 been aware of this, the outcome of the hearing may have been different.
The Attorneys Opening Remarks
The attorney for the appellants was Terrell K. Arline. Initially, Mr. Arline had a two-pronged approach to overcome the decision of the Board of Adjustment. The first prong was that the proposed RV Park violated the County’s Comprehensive Plan, and the second was it violated the County’s Land Development Regulations.
Mr. Arline points to the site plan.
Mr. Arline said, “We argued that the RV Park area that you’ve mapped in your plan is a high aquifer recharge area. We argued that the comp plan prohibited an RV park in that area.”
Mr. Arline explained that after the Hubbarts hired a lawyer, the appellants withdrew the argument that the RV Park violated the comp plan. He told The 5 they were going to focus on the compatibility issue only. “We’re not going to focus on the high aquifer recharge area or karst geology or any of that,” he said.
Mr. Arline continued, “There are numerous neighbors that wanted to challenge this around Bussey Road and the area around it.” The proposed RV Park is adjacent to Bussey Road.
The attorney for the Hubbarts was David Theriaque. He introduced himself to The 5.
Mr. Theriaque said he knew County Planner Brandon Stubbs; said he had known him for years and that he “is a fine planner and a fine gentleman.”
Mr. Arline Calls County Planner Brandon Stubbs
The County zoning in the area is zoned agriculture. It allows for RV parks if a special exception is granted.
Mr. Arline asked Mr. Stubbs, “Would you want to live next to an RV park?”
Mr. Stubbs answered, “It depends on the RV Park, but it wouldn’t bother me.”
Mr. Arline asked, “What evidence did you have that an RV park next to the single-family homes wouldn’t affect the property values?”
County Planner Brandon Stubbs answers questions.
Mr. Stubbs answered, “There are plenty of RV parks next to single-family residences in this area and other areas of the County that have not affected the property values.”
Mr. Arline asked, “Do you think people would want to construct a home on the vacant land next to the RV Park?”
Mr. Stubbs answered, “I don’t see why not. People do it every day. That’s personal preference.”
Mr. Arline pointed out that a criterion of compatibility was the consideration of whether or not “the proposed use is out of scale with the needs of the neighborhood or the community.”
Mr. Arline asked, “You concluded that it was not out of scale, right?”
Mr. Stubbs said, “Correct.”
Mr. Arline followed up, “But these RV trailers and the RV Park is completely different than the single-family residences, isn’t it?
Mr. Stubbs did not answer.
Mr. Arline continued, “How could you scale when you’ve got an RV park and a camper or an RV next to a single-family home?
Mr. Stubbs answered, “This is how the scales and the needs of the neighborhood has undergone compatibility. So if there is a need for it, then it would be in compliance with that. So if there was an actual need for it, it wouldn’t be out of scale.”
Mr. Arline asked, “So the neighborhood needs the RV Park?”
Mr. Stubbs answered, “The general region. Yes sir. There are plenty of people looking to come in the south end of the County and have a place to stay in an RV, and they can experience the eco-tourism.”
Mr. Theriaque Cross Examined Mr. Stubbs
Attorney David Theriaque, the attorney for the Hubbarts.
Mr. Theriaque asked, “How long have you been a planner?”
Mr. Stubbs answered, “17-18 years.”
Mr. Theriaque followed up, “Did you find any violation of the comprehensive plan or the County’s Land Development Code as it pertained to this application?”
Mr. Stubbs answered, “No sir.”
Mr. Theriaque continued, “Did you make a determination that the proposed campground was compatible with the adjacent, existing properties?”
Mr. Stubbs answered, “Yes sir.”
Mr. Theriaque asked, “What was that determination?”
Mr. Stubbs replied, “That it was compatible.”
Mr. Theriaque questioned Mr. Stubbs about the septic systems and the curb cut leading into the proposed RV Park.
Mr. Stubbs explained that septic systems and curb cuts along State Route 27 were not controlled by the County, but by the Department of Health and the Department of Transportation.
Mr. Theriaque thanked County Planner Stubbs for his testimony and turned the hearing back over to Mr. Arline and the RV Park opponents.
The Appellants’ Witnesses
The first witness for the opponents to the RV Park was Beth Fewell. Her property butted up to the proposed RV Park, and one of the proposed three septic systems was ten feet from her property line.
Beth Fewell points to the plan showing her proximity to the RV’s in the proposed RV Park.
Ms. Fewell explained, “The first word that stood out to me when I was reading about it was the fact of compatibility with us, and I thought, ‘How would an RV park be compatible with us on our little tiny piece of property, and all those are RVs come driving in with all these people’… I feel it’s a safety thing.”
Mr. Arline asked, “Do you believe the RV Park would adversely influence the living conditions in your neighborhood?”
Ms. Fewell said she was over 80 years old and didn’t feel safe around a lot of new people, adding, she didn’t want to be that close to people she didn’t know.
Ms. Fewell did not have concerns that the RV Park would affect her property values.
Ms. Fewell concluded, saying that she hadn’t seen RV parks in residential areas. “I’m 10 feet from this,” she said.
The Next Witnesses for the Opponents:
Carlton and Marisa Bussey
Mr. Arline questioned Carlton Bussey.
The Bussey property is not contiguous with the RV Park, but very close.
Carlton Bussey lived very close to the proposed RV Park.
Mr. Bussey explained the Bussey family has been on the property since the 1800s. He said, “I’ve been there all my life.”
He said he was opposed to the RV Park because of “space, noise, traffic, and the possibility of crime.”
Mr. Bussey said that he feels for the neighbors that live so close. “I don’t see how they are going to be able to enjoy their life.”
Mr. Bussey said he was afraid college students would cause noise.
Mr. Theriaque asked, “Have you discussed with the Hubbarts the clientele that they anticipate renting pads to?”
Mr. Bussey answered, “No.”
Mr. Theriaque asked, “Have you approached the Hubbarts with your concerns to see if they could address your concerns?”
Mr. Bussey said, “No, I have not.”
Marisa Bussey testifying. She was worried about the RV Park expanding.
Marisa Bussey was the next witness.
Mr. Arline asked if she had any concerns with the proposed RV Park.
Ms. Bussey said she was concerned about safety and traffic. She thought her grandchildren would be in danger when getting on and off the school bus because of the RV Park’s added traffic. Ms. Bussey mentioned that the area was a “residential” area; she said that her son and grandchildren live about 100 feet from the proposed RV park.
She said, “There will be different groups of people coming every day.”
Mr. Theriaque mentioned that there were “only 15 pads” going into the proposed RV Park.
Ms. Bussey said, “I’m not confident that it will always be 15… It’s not compatible to our residential area and neighborhood.”
Ann Rich testified that she was concerned about her granddaughter’s privacy.
Ms. Ann Rich came to the witness chair. She said she lives across the road from the proposed RV Park, and her bedroom faces the proposed Park. “My granddaughter’s bedroom faces where that would be,” she said.
Mr. Arline asked her why she was opposed to the proposed RV Park.
Ms. Rich said, “I have several reasons: safety, the environment, and the traffic coming in and out… You don’t know what type of people are coming in and out of there.”
Bob Evans testifying.
Bob Evans owns a used car lot a few miles down the road from the proposed RV Park. He said the trucks driving on Route 27 go 65 miles an hour. “It’s going to be a total catastrophe.”
The speed limit on Route 27 is 60 miles an hour.
Mr. Evans forecasted, “many deaths there.” He was concerned about RV vehicles driving in and out of the Park onto Route 27.
Mr. Evans testified that the area in which the Park was proposed is not suitable for septic tanks.
Gary Bussey testified that turning on SR 27 would be an issue.
Mr. Gary Bussey lives off Bussey Road and is another life-long neighborhood resident.
Mr. Bussey explained that he is an over the road trucker. He said that RVs over 30 feet long would have trouble turning in and out of the proposed campground. He said that he thought “kids from the University of Florida would be there, partying.”
Mr. Bussey said, “I’m against it completely. I have nothing against them (the owners).”
Mr. Stubbs, Called Back to the Witness Chair
By this time, the appeal had been ongoing for almost two hours.
Mr. Theriaque asked, “You’ve heard all the testimony tonight?
Mr. Stubbs answered, “Yes sir.”
Mr. Theriaque followed up, “Have you changed your professional opinion regarding the compatibility of this project based on the testimony that you’ve heard tonight?”
Mr. Stubbs answered, “No sir.”
Mr. Theriaque asked, “How many compatibility studies have you done as a professional planner?”
Mr. Stubbs answered, “Hundreds.”
Mr. Theriaque asked if the Florida Department of Transportation would analyze movements in and out of the campground. Mr. Stubbs said it would.
Mr. Theriaque asked if the Florida Department of Health would analyze issues with sinkholes as part of the septic tank permits. Mr. Stubbs said it would.
PART III: The Hubbarts
They were granted the special exception
Mr. Theriaque called Ms. Elizabeth Hubbart to the witness chair.
Elizabeth Hubbart testifies at the hearing.
Ms. Hubbart explained how she came to purchase the 12.75 acres for the proposed RV Park.
She said she was driving around the area, saw that the property was for sale, and contacted the owner.
Ms. Hubbart explained that she had already built a house in Columbia County before she had purchased the property and that if she hadn’t, she would have considered building on the site of the proposed RV Park.
Ms. Hubbart explained that campers would have a minimum stay, and she would “market the campground to responsible people.”
She said, “We want good neighbors, to the other campers, and also to people who live in adjacent properties. People that are ready to follow the rules, and we are not shy about enforcing the rules. Even though we don’t live on-site, we would use a campground host to enforce those policies.”
Mr. Theriaque asked, “You’ve heard testimony tonight… that they fear crime; they fear safety; they fear noise. What would you say to the neighbors?”
Ms. Hubbart said, “I would say that we are certainly not callous to their concerns. We would do reasonable and above measures to ensure that people at the campground were behaving. Obviously, there are things that you can’t anticipate.”
Mr. Theriaque asked, “You mentioned a minimum stay. Do you have a minimum stay in mind?”
Ms. Hubbart answered, “I would say three nights would be the absolute minimum.”
Mr. Theriaque asked, “Would you be renting to college students?”
Ms. Hubbart answered, “No, we would have a minimum rental age.”
Ms. Hubbart said she would request the RV Park’s approval with 14 additional conditions.
Mr. Arline cross-examined Ms. Hubbart.
Mr. Arline asked, “You wouldn’t want to have an RV campground next to your house, would you?”
There was a pause. All eyes turned to Ms. Hubbart.
Ms. Hubbart answered, “I couldn’t say that I wouldn’t. I like RV camping.”
The Attorneys Wrap It Up
Mr. Arline said the new conditions submitted by the Hubbarts did not make the RV Park compatible with the neighborhood, and he rested his case.
Mr. Theriaque said, “The Board of Adjustment voted to approve this. This is an appeal to overturn the Board of Adjustment. They have the obligation to demonstrate that the Board of Adjustment was wrong… Mr. Stubbs concluded as a professional planner that this project met all the Comprehensive Plan requirements; all the requirements of the County’s Land Development Code.”
The appeal was well attended.
The County 5: The Appeal Was Now In Its Hands
Commissioner Witt speaks of “legacy families.”
First to weigh in was Columbia County’s legendary commissioner, Commissioner Ronald Williams, a commissioner since 1982.
Commissioner Williams explained that Columbia County was the last County in Florida to adopt a comprehensive land-use plan, “simply because we believe in property rights.”
Commissioner Williams said, “Do I think a mobile home park will affect the value of the property? I say no… I don’t think that will deter people from buying or affect your property taxes.”
Commissioner Williams then spoke about the traffic on I-75 and State Route 47. He said that 47 was the next largest generator of traffic in Columbia County, after US 90.
The proposed RV Park is not on SR 47.
Commissioner Williams said because of the big traffic problem on 47, “I will vote to recommend that we reject this decision by the Board of Adjustment.”
Commissioner Toby Witt was next: “I listened to the testimony very closely. I’m very torn about this. I hate that these things come to us in this fashion. You made a good-faith effort with your conditions, but I kind of wish these conditions were there from the beginning. I do agree in a situation like this, it’s very important to talk to your neighbors. They do get a say, especially the legacy families that lived here forever. They get a say, and I think that’s something maybe our Board of Adjustment overlooked. In listening to all the testimony, I’m going to have to vote to deny the campground.”
While the special assessment application was in front of the Board of Adjustment, the record reflects that the Hubbart’s did make a good-faith effort to get together with the neighbors.
Commissioner Tim Murphy said, “I agree with all the points made…I’m going to have to support the denial.”
County Chairman Rocky Ford: “I appreciate them coming up with a set of conditions that they would apply. I would like to have seen those conditions maybe be more of a setback from the neighbor’s property line. Twenty-five feet for 12.75 acres, I think, is mighty tight to the neighbors… I tend to agree with the other commissioners. I think a little more effort could have been made to take the neighbors into consideration more…”
Commissioner Hollingsworth said, “I’m with them.”
Commissioner Witt said, “I make a motion to grant the appeal to deny the special exception.”
The County 5 unanimously granted the appeal to deny the special exception.
The day after the hearing, your reporter spoke with Beth Fewell, the appellant closest to the now denied proposed RV Park and Elizabeth Hubbart, whose special exception was denied by the County 5.
Ms. Fewell said, ‘I can’t believe it. I’m just so grateful. I am very relieved.”
Ms. Hubbart was gracious in her disappointment.
Your reporter asked, “Do you guys plan to appeal?”
Ms. Hubbart said, ” No, no. It’s not going to go anywhere else.”
Your reporter asked, “What are you going to do?”
Ms. Hubbart answered, sounding relieved of the ordeal, “Regroup.