Family Vacation / Forestry Property

Asked August 9, 2013, 4:19 PM EDT

Our family has a property owner in Norwich Township, Newaygo County for more than 30 years and we have been vacationing on our property for nearly 40. The property is roughly 20 Acres is size. On one section of the property, we have electrical service and well. We use that area a sort of small campground where we leave our trailers parked from the spring hunting and fishing seasons thorugh the Fall and early winter hunting seasons. The township has recently adopted a Zoning Ordinance requiring that "travel trailers" may only be parked on a given parcel of property period not to exceed 30 days and by permit only....even on private property. They are allowing for a single 30 day extension, but after that. The "travel trailer"0 must be removed from the lot. We use the property on weekends and during vacation periods we will stay for a week on end once or twice a year. We have a registered forestry management plan and we actiaully follow the plan. I may have found some relief for our situation under 125.3208, but I am not convinced that it is our only source of relief. Not being an attorney, I am not totally familiar with all of the governing statute that limits the authority of the Zoning Boards. Can you suggest other statute that might address this issue and offer us relief. Our preference is to have the zoning ordinance recinded. Litigating the matter should not be necessary and costs us and the township money. Any ideas that your might have would be great. I know that you may not offer legal advice, but if you point me to the possible code.....We can take it from thier. Thank you.

Newaygo County Michigan

1 Response

Dear Sir/Madam;

The following assumes that the term “trailer” you use in your post describes a type of recreational vehicle (camper, fifth wheel, etc.) and not a housing structure commonly referred to as a single-wide trailer*. For the purposes of this discussion and to remain consistent with the language in the township ordinance, I will hereafter refer to “trailer” as “recreational vehicle”.

*If the latter is the case, then your only option would be to apply for a permit to permanently site the trailer on the property.

I reviewed the information you sent me and the Norwich Township Zoning Ordinance. Based on this review, it is my understanding that your principal concerns are:

1) Not being able to have your recreational vehicle(s) on the property for longer than 30 days at one time (my understanding of the ordinance is 28 days, extendable to 2 additional 28 day periods in a calendar year), the recreational vehicle must be removed from the property upon expiration of the permit – recreational vehicles may only be stored on parcels with a principal residence (such as a house).

2) Not being able to come and go for short periods (a few days, such as an extended weekend) without having to obtain a permit, which are limited to three per calendar year.

I do not believe that your property size, time vacationing there or forestry management plan is relevant to the case at hand. The Michigan Zoning Enabling Act is the principal legislation that governs township zoning, but I do not believe that section 125.3208 applies to the recreational vehicle or the act of camping because the recreational vehicle is not a permanent building or structure and the use of camping is a temporary, intermittent use. Therefore, I believe that the recreational vehicle and act of camping fall under the regulations of the current Norwich Township Zoning Ordinance. The ordinance does not allow for electrical or well hook-up (I’m not sure if this is an issue between you and the township or not). If the electrical and well hook-ups were legal and conforming at the time they were created, then you would have an argument that they are nonconforming (“grandfathered”), but hooking-up to them for the purpose of camping would be a “gray” area that would have to be worked out in an agreement with the township or litigated in court (my suspicion would be that you would have a difficult time winning this argument). Storage of the recreational vehicle on the property without a principal structure is prohibited.

I believe you have several options moving forward:

1) Comply with the ordinance. This means that you apply for and obtain a permit and 2 permit extensions to cover your various extended camping, removing your recreational vehicle from the property when the permits expire. You could have a discussion with the township zoning administrator or other officials to see if a permit is really even needed for short trips such as 2-3 day weekends (they may just not take any action in these instances if you are not causing any disruptions such as noise, garbage, etc.). If you are willing to obtain the 3 permits for your extended stays, perhaps the township would be willing to allow you to camp on short trips if you are willing to remove your recreational vehicle after each trip. Also, you could request that you be allowed to connect to the electrical and well hook-ups if this has been an issue. Having worked with many townships on camping issues in the past, my suspicion is that they simply want to avoid a “permanent” camping situation. If you take this route, I would recommend you avoid asking permission to store the camper on site when not in use.

2) Petition to change the ordinance. I do not believe that you will have any success to rescind the ordinance, but you could have success pointing out to the township the problems you are experiencing because of the ordinance and recommend changes that could be made. For example, there is another township in Newaygo County that has a similar camping provision in its ordinance, but it allows short camping trips (a certain number of days per month – recreational vehicle must be removed after camping) without a permit – the idea is to allow camping while avoiding serious problems that can occur with longer-term, unregulated camping (sewer/wastewater issues, garbage, etc.). This process would be uncertain and could take 6 months or longer to achieve the changes desired.

3) Litigation. Obtaining an attorney and going to court is an option. I fully agree with your comments: this option would be costly, unnecessary, and there is I very strong chance that the township would prevail. This option should only be considered if there is no other option left and you are still intent on pursuing the issue further.

If you have any other questions or need additional information, please feel free to ask!