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County targets RV camping

It’s not the camels, zebras or wallabies, oh my. It’s the RV.

An Oak Harbor woman, famous for the antics of her collection of exotic animals, is coming under fire again, this time from the county’s planning department.

On Wednesday, Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke referred the case of Maria Kieffer-Wiese to the Prosecutor’s Office.

“The reason she’s being pursued is because she is occupying an RV as a dwelling unit,” Bakke said.

Staying in a recreational vehicle on private property is against county code, unless the people obtain a temporary use permit while building a home. An exemption is also made for the temporary housing of person who is ill, so long as an approved dwelling is already on site.

Bakke said the woman, who could not be reached for comment, owes approximately $15,000 in civil penalties, with more accruing daily.

Kieffer-Wiese has been a thorn in the county’s side since she moved to Whidbey in 1999. Her collection of exotic animals, including a monkey, kangaroos and emus, quickly gained notoriety when her animals routinely got out of her yard. In 2003, she had more than 10 criminal citations for letting her animals escape.

Her Benton Place home burned down in 2001, and she moved into an RV on her property. Bakke said that in 2003 county officials told her of her violation and told her to get a building permit.

Bakke said that she has applied for a permit for a home that he characterized as above-average size. What she has not done, however, is pay for the permit. Today, she continues to defy Island County Code and live in the RV.

Countywide issue

“This is not something that we proactively enforce,” Bakke said.

The rule falls under the county’s zoning ordinance and has been in effect since the early ‘70s. According to the planning department, neither camping nor the use of a recreational vehicle is permitted for occupation. Also, storage of an RV is prohibited on property without a single-family residence.

Bakke said that people who prompt complaints fall into two categories: Either it is an on-going dispute between neighbors or it is people who come to a friend’s property and party.

Normally, the infractions go unreported, unless the people camping are being especially rowdy. Bakke said that people living in communities with smaller parcels usually call more often.

“I think a lot of those communities have benefited form the enforcement of those codes,” Bakke, who was the county’s first code enforcement officer, said. “There are places where it is a really big deal.”

Living in an RV, or even in a tent, creates several problems that Bakke said are enough to justify it being against the law. When people live in an RV, they usually bring in television sets, microwaves and other amenities, which the RV is not designed for.

“When you start plugging in a TV and a microwave, it’s common for them to catch fire,” Bakke said.

The long-term living in a recreational vehicle also creates an issue for the health department. Disposal of grey and brown water, which is runoff from dishes or laundry and sewage, is difficult to do over a long period of time.

But Bakke said that if people are being respectful and not bothering anybody, a complaint generally won’t be filed. The planning department does not proactively enforce county codes such as this, but it will respond to complaints.

“So long as you don’t get blasting drunk and pee on the neighbor’s pansies, there’s generally not a problem,” Bakke said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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