City may permit living in campers
Vehicles would need utility hookups
By Scott Bellile
The city of New London may soon allow seasonal living in campers parked on empty land, but not without restrictions.
Gerald Magolski, a New London resident who also owns a vacant 50-by-155-foot plot along the Wolf River, asked the New London Planning Commission in October for permission to park a travel trailer there and camp on his plot from May 15 to Sept. 15.
Municipal code does not permit campers on parcels that lack a principal structure such as a house. As of now, the commission cannot approve the request.
But following a discussion on the topic Jan. 26, the commission appears to be in favor of reworking the rules.
Commission members voiced support for Magolski’s request because his lot, 206 Woodlane Drive, contains a rarity for vacant land: electrical hookups and water and sewer laterals.
New London Zoning Administrator Paul Hanlon said he would be OK with campers on vacant land with the condition they be connected to utilities. He also recommended time limits for the campers, such as the four months Magolski is requesting for his, and said further requirements could also be considered like trash and recycling pickup.
“This one doesn’t bother me, first of all because we know Jerry,” New London Mayor Gary Henke said of the proposal. “What scares me is a slum landlord coming in [to a residential property] and deciding, ‘Oh, let’s tear the house down and put in a camper trailer on the lot and I’ll rent it out for $800 a month.”
Hanlon said a condition could be added that the landowner must be the occupant of the camper.
Hanlon said if the planning commission supports camping on vacant land, then it should rewrite zoning code to allow it strictly through a conditional use permit.
Conditional use permits are granted to property owners on a case-by-case basis. First the commission must invite neighbors within 200 feet of the land to a public hearing before granting the permit. The commission must listen to neighbors’ concerns, but it does not necessarily have to act on them.
Hanlon advised against passing a city ordinance that straight-out legalizes campers on undeveloped land. Doing so would give residents the freedom to do it without discussions with the planning commission or a public hearing, potentially leading to public nuisance complaints from neighbors.
“Any time you have a conditional use, if something happens that goes bad, you can pull it back and say, ‘Wait a minute. We’re going to do something to this,’” Hanlon told the commission.
Magolski said he informed his neighbors of his proposal and they did not object.
The planning commission tabled his request so it could draft an amendment to the zoning code. Hanlon said the commission needs to develop a list of conditions applicable to the situation so all applicants are treated fairly.
“In this I don’t see anything that’s probably an issue, but we just have to make sure as we move forward that we don’t set a precedent and get ourselves in trouble, something that we can’t defend later,” Hanlon said.
The commission will consider approving Magolski’s request at its next meeting, scheduled for March 2 at 5 p.m. at city hall.
“What’s the risk of not [approving] it?” commissioner Cindy Goller asked.
“We would have some unhappy campers,” commissioner Ron Steinhorst joked.