WOODLAND — The Woodland City Council voted 6-1 on Monday night to reject an appeal filed by multiple residents and local business owners who opposed an RV park going into the Belmont Loop area. A public hearing on the incoming project drew comments from more than 20 people, nearly all of whom opposed the RV park because of the residents they believe it would attract.
Councilwoman Carol Rounds was the sole vote against the RV park on Monday, though Mayor Will Finn and several councilmembers voiced frustration that there wasn’t a strong legal basis for them to side with business owners.
“I wish there were more facts that would back up me to make the decision that I truly want to make right now,” Finn said.
Marco Wolfe had originally bought the land near Belmont Loop for use as a storage area. When Woodland changed its zoning laws to disallow storage buildings in ‘highway commercial’ locations, Wolfe modified his business plan to create an RV park. The park would include utility hookups for 67 vehicles along with two buildings for restrooms and other facilities and a pad for temporary food vendors.
The public hearing and legal questions about the RV park were evaluated by Joe Turner as the basis for the City Council decision. Turner is a municipal hearing attorney based out of Gresham, Ore., who was contracted by the city to work as the hearing examiner.
In his hearing report to council, Turner said there is no evidence that the RV park would bring in excessive calls to police or be incompatible with other businesses in the location. Outside of those two factors, Turner wrote that the city had no legal standing to reject the proposed development.
Turner and multiple councilmembers said that ruling against the development due to public opposition or fears about potential RV park residents could be overturned in state court.
“I must have torn through every line of that thing, trying to find some kind of verbal loophole that I could use,” Councilman Dave Plaza said of Turner’s report. “Unfortunately there wasn’t.”
The criticism of the RV park, submitted to the city since March, came from the vast majority of businesses currently in Belmont Loop, as well as other Woodland residents.
Kimberly Brennan is the owner of Kinderland, a child care center that has been in Woodland since 2002. Brennen wrote that she had already heard concerns from parents about having their kids staying next to temporary residents.
“The introduction of a residential facility that would potentially have a regularly changing population is not something that will help us continue to provide this service for the community,” Brennan wrote.
Councilman Karl Chapman criticized the RV park proposal during Monday’s meeting but also bristled against the ultimatums some businesses had given to the city. Two business owners said they would not renew their lease for Belmont Loop if the RV park was approved. A third businessman said he was working to move his company’s headquarters to Woodland but that he would back out because of the RV park.
“That is your right to do that, but to come in here and throw it in our face as a bully tactic, I don’t like that at all,” Chapman said.
The managers of three of the closest RV parks also submitted letters opposing the development. Management from Columbia Riverfront RV Park and the Lewis River Country Store and RV Park said the proximity to I-5 would keep the park from becoming a high-quality location, which would attract more drug users and dangerous residents.
Woodland Shores RV Park owner Esther Rothe said she was against the Belmont Loop location because of the traffic issues and lack of protection for children staying there. Rothe objected, however, to the concerns raised in many of the letters about the park becoming a draw for transient criminals.
“These people are not homeless, drug-users or bums,” Rothe wrote. “People are being forced out of their homes and this is the next best thing for them. We have retired people in our park living by the river relaxing.”
One of the major points of contention throughout the reaction to the RV park was a concern over crime rates.
Both Wolfe’s legal team and the businesses who opposed the RV park cited police call logs in their arguments. Opponents said an increase in 911 calls would be an inevitable result of creating the RV park and cited the assaults suffered by staff of nearby parks. The developers said that other businesses in Woodland had as many or more police calls than the RV park would receive.
Turner’s report said the business owner’s concern about homelessness and crime were “not supported by substantial evidence and conflicts with the objective police call data.”
Call logs from the Woodland Police Department and first responders in Clark County and Cowlitz County showed little difference between the number of calls by nearby RV parks and the city’s hotel and motel. Columbia River RV Park, Clark County Fairgrounds, Lewis River Inn and the Scandia Motel all recorded between 1 and 1.5 calls to the Woodland Police per month. Woodland Shores RV Park had the most police presence, with about 2.6 calls per month.
Turner’s review of the hearing material looked at compatibility as a city code issue. Woodland’s municipal code said that compatible developments need to fit with the traffic, building and site design of the area. Turner advised City Council that a lack of ‘synergy’ or the displeasure of nearby businesses did not qualify as a compatibility issue.
A written decision moving forward with the RV park will be up for approval by Finn and council on Aug. 2. Opposing businesses would be able to file another appeal against the RV park to Cowlitz County following that action by the city.