'Campers vs. residents' sends bad vibe in Webber Township

Several voice issues, concerns at meeting

WEBBER TOWNSHIP -- The Webber Township Board of Trustees recently hosted a public input session to address issues regarding the township camping ordinances and affordable housing.

Webber Township Supervisor Ernie Wogatzke said the impetus for the public input session was that the board had been receiving a lot of complaints from residents about campers and ORVs.

"The board is fielding a lot of complaints about campers' property not being maintained and we are asking for input from the community so we can bring everyone together and come up with solutions that work for everyone," he explained.

Many in attendance said that they felt like they were being punished for the actions of a few. They pointed out that, while they are keeping their properties cleaned up and well maintained, there are many areas of the township, including permanent residents, that have a lot of trash around their property that needs to be cleaned up.

In addition, they said they felt like they were being threatened because everything bad that happened was blamed on the campers.

John Weeks with Northwest Real Estate approached the board saying they are going about the problem all wrong.

"The letter I was given today shows me what part of the problem is," Weeks said. "If you read the heading, it says 'campers vs. residents.' It says that residents have been disrespected enough and their health and safety have been threatened. This is the feeling of the board.

"These people are taxpayers here and they are entitled to an opinion and to the use of their land," he continued. "You can't zone away everything that is not what you want it to be. You need to get good information and not base your decisions on what a couple of residents say."

"That is what we are here for," Wogatzke said. "We are asking for everyone's input. We are taking notes. This is just the beginning."

One man said he was concerned that his property values were being negatively impacted by run down campers being left nearby and not being maintained.

Lake County Commissioner Robert Sanders told those in attendance that as a representative of the district, he was getting a lot of complaints from residents that there are areas that are being inundated by camping.

"As a county commissioner, I understand the importance of having the campers here in our community," Sanders said. "You generate a lot of money, you use the trails, you are welcome here.

"We have to look at all sides of the issue," he said. "You need to respect the residents that live here. We have to look at residential areas where property values are being decreased. It is not an easy decision."

Those in attendance that have owned property in the area for many years as a vacation spot expressed concerns about how any changes in the ordinances might affect them. They questioned whether they would have to remove campers or other structures to comply with any new regulations.

Township officials assured them that would not be the case.

"The people that are here are going to be protected," Township treasurer Pat Williams said. "You are not going to have to move your campers. We want to know what to do going forward.

"Maybe we want to change it so that if you are in a residential zoned area, instead of a camper you would have to have a rustic cabin or a tiny house," she added. "Those are things we want to look at going forward."

Wogatzke said any new restrictions on campers would apply only to the residential zoned area, not the recreational zoned district.

Another area of concern for the campers was the issue of accessory structures. Many said they would like to have the ability to construct a shed large enough to store items like quads and yard equipment so they don't have to haul it back and forth, and felt like the 400 square foot limit imposed by the county should be acceptable for the township.

The Webber Township planning commission has been looking at the current ordinances for accessory structures to determine if more regulations need to be put into place to restrict the size and type of "sheds" or "containers" that would be allowed.

"We don't want to have a lot of overly large structures. We want to find a balance and we are still working on that," Webber Planning Commission Chairperson Pi Medina explained.

"Just so you understand," Sanders added. "The 400 square feet restriction is just for building permits. You are not required to pull a building permit if the structure is 400 square feet or less. The township has the right to be more restrictive than the county.

"As a township resident, I agree with allowing accessory structures," he said. "An accessory building to put quads, or boats, or motorcycles in - allow that. I would rather see their stuff kept inside and it would protect the property, as well."

One possible solution, Wogatzke said, was to issue a building permit along with the camping permit that would allow for a portable structure that could be removed, if and when, the camper is removed.

"The size is still being worked on," he said. "Another issue is whether we should allow portable containers."

The township does not currently allow shipping containers on property.

Sanders said that with respect to shipping containers, if they are going to allow them, they should require that they be painted or sided to fit in with the area.

The issue of affordable housing was also addressed during the meeting. Township officials are looking at changing the zoning ordinance to allow for tiny homes in residential zoned districts to help with the influx of people coming into the area to buy property because of the relatively low cost.

"The housing in this area is lacking," Sanders said. "We have people living in tents. We need to come up with a solution for affordable housing. One solution would be to allow single wide trailers but limit them to a 16 foot. Another is to allow tiny homes to come in that would meet the square foot requirement."

"We haven't looked at tiny homes, yet," Wogatzke said. "That is something we are talking about."

"I am looking around at all the people here, and I'm thinking about all the revenue you bring into this community," Sanders said. "I know you are all good people, and I know the township board will take everybody's comments into consideration when making decisions. Our goal is to bring people here, but we need to find solutions that work for everybody."

Wogatzke encouraged everybody to go out and get to know their neighbors and find out what they are all about.

"We don't want animosity between the residents and the campers," he said.

"For me, as a resident that is feeling overwhelmed by all the campers, it's a big debt of gratitude to have you come out here," Medina said. "You have worked long and hard for what you are building, and I can see your side more clearly today.

"I want to give you the opportunity to develop your property, but we also want to keep the rustic, woodsy atmosphere," she said. "We don't want this to become a campground. We want to control the number of people coming here. I am looking at trying to keep those that are already here and bridge that gap between residents and campers."

Medina invited those in attendance to join the planning commission during their virtual meetings to continue to give their input on the issues.