Our View: Upper Township officials’ motives unclear for banning campground housing upgrades | Latest titles
Late last month, a scaled-down upper township committee enacted limits on what can be done with dwellings in the township’s 11 campgrounds. Mayor Curtis Corson abstained because he owns a campground, and committee member Jay Newman abstained because a relative had been involved in renovating the campground accommodations.
That left a three-person committee, which approved additional restrictions on campground patrons meant to prevent them from living there year-round.
Historically, people were allowed to live year-round in many South Jersey campgrounds. Since the area has the majority of private campgrounds in New Jersey, this provided a significant amount of affordable housing and was often a frugal choice for seniors. The residences were mobile homes or so-called “model park trailers” – transportable, but intended for long-term or permanent placement on a foundation.
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When some families living in campgrounds began sending children to local schools, municipalities and their tax-paying residents rightfully objected because they weren’t paying New Jersey’s highest property taxes in the nation, which fund public schools. As Upper Town engineer Paul Dietrich said during the debate over his restraining order, the tax revenue from a campground residence wouldn’t come close to raising a child’s education expenses. .
Municipalities could and often have prevented year-round occupancy of their campgrounds. Middle Township, for example, in 1992 refused a permit to operate the Hideaway Beach campground and went to court to ensure that its owner closed in the winter and evicted anyone found living there.
Then, in 2009, the state settled the issue for all New Jersey campgrounds, limiting residency at seasonal facilities to six months. Living all year round in Haut-Canton campgrounds is already illegal. Unless ….
When it became clear that some seniors who had long resided in campgrounds would be rendered homeless by state law, then-state senator Jeff Van Drew convinced the Department of State Community Affairs to retain existing park model trailers at state campgrounds. — as long as they comply with municipal stay ordinances.
So if the issue is grandfathered trailers and mobile homes in Upper Township campgrounds, the township can simply limit its campgrounds to seasonal use.
Instead, the township committee banned certain types of maintenance upgrades, specifically putting a better roof on the standard flat roof. Homeowners say a pitched shingle roof can last 30 years – twice as long as a flat roof – adding insulation and structural integrity and extending the life of a mobile home.
Township attorney Daniel Reeves made it clear that the goal was to reduce the usefulness of the campground residences. “The more livable these units become, the greater the risk that someone will illegally and improperly attempt to use one of these recreational vehicles as a year-round residence,” Reeves said.
But the canton could already easily ensure that no one lives in a campground all year round, if it hasn’t already done so. Instead, he reverted to a 1964 ordinance banning a pitched roof on a trailer (then surely the actual home on wheels rather than a model built to sit on a foundation), even though his own building officials had repeatedly endorsed the improvement.
We don’t know what other motivations the Haut-Canton government has for limiting campground upgrades. We can’t easily imagine good reasons, especially since the township has also allowed owners to purchase the properties under their camping dwellings for true co-ownership of their seasonal homes.
Across America, many campgrounds cater to seasonal owners who painstakingly upgrade their campsite to create an affordable summer residence. No doubt there are problems with this, but if Upper Township tries to address them, officials should do so more openly.