Dear Editor,

In reference to the posted April 26, 2018 article “County could reopen RV ordinance.” As discussed in the article, Commissioner Phil Mcroan presented a petition requesting the current RV ordinance be amended to include all areas within 3 miles of the coastline of St. Joseph Bay as well as place a moratorium on construction of pole barns as primary structures. Since this commission meeting it seems little to no progress has been made. Currently a new development within the community of Oak Grove is not only allowing, but advertising, the ability to build pole barns and mixed-use, touting light restrictions.

Although I was not living here when the current ordinance was put in place, as someone who was born, raised, and spent 37 of my 47 years of life in the area, I must say it sickens me to see what has happened an been allowed within my hometown. Per the article and county commission meeting, the county administrator stated that “due to the ordinance RV’s banned from the beach had no where to go.”

Well that is absolutely inaccurate. There are places for RV’s to go, they are called RV parks and campgrounds. It is overwhelmingly apparent the previous commission was influenced by opportunistic desires of certain persons or groups that had previously invested in the areas in question such as Oak Grove during the real estate “boom.” During this time of inflated prices, real estate investors purchased properties in Oak Grove and other under developed areas of gulf county believing these areas would see great return on investment if properly developed. Once the market fell, these investors were stuck with properties they were almost certain of realizing a loss on.

During this time values for everyone’s homes and land declined due to the fall of the economy. This situation was also compounded by fact many investors walked away from homes and investment properties bringing the onslaught of short sales and/or foreclosures compounding the decline of real estate value. But there were still some investors left holding on to property that had seen major depreciation on value.

Simultaneously, as the market began to take an upward shift, the RV and Tiny house market was beginning to boom. RV’s and Tiny homes have allowed many people to to enjoy vacationing at a lower cost, especially for families. Many people around the country are investing RV’s and tiny homes as a residence or vacation option. Due to this boom RV parks have been able to charge much higher prices in excess of a mortgage for monthly rentals, causing some RV owners to begin looking for somewhere to purchase to become their vacation destination

Recognizing this, the good ole boy network has seen opportunity and is capitalizing on it. By carving the areas of Oak Grove, Highland View and Jones Homestead, the investors have now been able to recoup some or all of their initial investment and the real estate agents are profiting from the increased value of open land in these areas. That is great for the real estate investors, agents, and non-residents seeking to have a vacation spot near the water to put an RV.

However, this is not good for the full-time, voting, tax-paying residents of these communities nor the county as a whole.

Since this has been allowed, Highland View, Oak Grove, as well as some areas along CR 30A are essentially becoming campgrounds. Along with the RV’s, many owners are constructing pole barns with little to know regulation that have essentially apartments in them which may or may not be up to code. Compounding this issue, is the fact many of these owners are renting these parcels out as RV lot in a commercial manner which is not allowed. You can also find individuals living in storage units in certain areas of the county. The county has stated they have no way of proving this and does not have the man power to enforce this properly.

On any given weekend there is pole barn and RV in Oak Grove which 8-10 people utilizing the pole barn and RV as a living area which supposedly is not allowed. Upon contacting the county, it is repeatedly stated “we just do not have the manpower to check this.”

If the county cannot enforce ordinances, then the ordinances are null and void. Due to this there should be a moratorium on construction of pole barns in the areas in question until the issue is resolved in the best interest for the residents and there are proper ordinances and restrictions that can also be properly enforced.

For those of you that may be thinking this is a Oak Grove or Highland view issue, it is not. If you evaluate the average taxes collected on the properties in these areas on single family homes compared to RV lots on average is significantly higher. Compound that with the fact that if properly developed, newly constructed single family homes would bring in even higher tax revenue for the county as a whole. In an evaluation of the taxes paid in Oak Grove comparing 10 RV lots and 10 single family homes, on average the revenue from single family homes is approximately $700.00/parcel more compared to lots being used for RVs. (It should be noted the number quoted does not evaluate all homes and/or lots in the community only 10 lots known for RV use and 10 single family homes). Secondly, some of these RV lots are being rented in a commercial manner and not collecting bed taxes for short term rentals which another loss for the county.

I can only assume, since I was not living here when the ordinance was first established, that many of the residents of these communities were not completely aware of the ordinance, the implications of the ordinance, and what was to come. What I am certain of now is, the majority of the full time residents of these communities are not happy with what has happened. I am also certain that elected officials should be acting in the best interest of residents of the community they represent as a whole, not the special interest of certain individuals within the county.

Although this issue has not been as highly visible as the recent Port St. Joe city commission debacle attempting to remove the city manager with no just cause, some of the same influences are at play within this situation. I urge everyone who has not driven in these areas and taken notice of what is happening to drive though Oak Grove, Highland View, St. Joe Beach, as well as CR 30A and take notice as to what has happened and is continuing to happen in our paradise. Please contact your county commissioners and/or attend the county commission meetings (I know this is difficult for those of us that work normal 9-5 hours) In my opinion, any county commissioner that would vote against taking action on this is not acting in the best interest of the residents they represent and come election time should be replaced. If not, what will happen next to benefit special interest of certain individuals and what effect will it have on you?

Chris Wahl

Port St. Joe