City staff and fire chief urge council to drop authorization of recreational vehicles as full-time residences on Bainbridge

Bainbridge City Council is considering a change in its planning rules that would allow recreational vehicles, or RVs, to be used as permanent residences year round.

But while the move aims to alleviate the shortage of affordable housing on the island, other officials raise concerns about the safety of the proposal and warn that it will not be a quick fix to the lack of affordable housing on the island. the island.

City council members are expected to review the proposed building rule changes at their September 10 meeting.

In addition to reviewing RVs licensed as permanent residences, the council will also review the rules for “little houses” – small houses, typically under 400 square feet, some of which are built on wheels – and districts. zoning for small house communities.

While council reached consensus at its July 23 meeting to allow recreational vehicles to be used as a primary residence on certain properties in Bainbridge, council members will continue to talk about the idea when they pass a proposal. ordinance that would allow recreational vehicles as permanent housing. Types of motorhomes include motorhomes, caravans and fifth wheel trailers, motorhomes and motorhomes, and usually contain a sleeping area, kitchen or basic cooking facilities and a room. bath.

The idea of ​​allowing RVs as full-time residences on the island has prompted planners and others to voice concerns about the idea.

In a letter to the city, Bainbridge Island Fire Chief Hank Teran said recreational vehicles lack the minimum safety features required for residential homes. These features include emergency evacuation (homes built under the fire code require both primary and secondary means of escape in the event of a fire or other emergency), permanent electrical wiring, as well as as fire resistance and fire protection. RV accommodations should also meet regulations applicable to other single family homes, such as fire flow and access to the fire department.

Teran also noted that fire detection and life safety devices – smoke detectors, propane detectors, carbon monoxide alarms – should also be installed.

“The use of recreational vehicles as an approved form of permanent housing is unconventional and poses a challenge in meeting minimum fire and life safety standards,” Teran wrote. “In addition to fire and life safety challenges, older RVs may not be able to meet recognized minimum standards for RVs without significant expense and expense. ”

“The Fire District recognizes the importance of tackling the problem of homelessness, but recommends solving this problem by a more conventional method that provides the minimum recognized standards for fire and life safety,” said he added.

City staff are now asking council to reject the idea of ​​allowing the use of recreational vehicles as permanent residences.

Bainbridge Building manager Todd Cunningham, in a note to Heather Wright, interim planning director, listed eight reasons why the proposal should be rejected:

• Recreational vehicles are currently regulated as “vehicles” and construction is regulated by the Ministry of Labor and Industry. As such, local level jurisdictions such as the City of Bainbridge Island cannot dictate how they are built under the city’s building code. The city can only regulate where they can be parked.

• Personal safety concerns related to fire protection, as shared by the Bainbridge Fire Chief.

• Raw wastewater is stored in tanks inside recreational vehicles; wastewater treatment is difficult and can lead to other health risks, as well as environmental problems caused by spills.

• Motorhome plumbing systems “are of much inferior quality and not designed for continuous or prolonged use”. Such systems are not insulated and can be damaged by freezing.

• Mechanical systems – such as heating, refrigeration, and air conditioning – are not designed for full-time use and permanent life, and are not regulated by state energy codes.

• Mold and mildew growth is a problem due to poor air quality which creates a greater health risk in RVs “which can expose occupants to respiratory and other health hazards. health “.

• Recreational vehicles are not energy efficient, with thinner walls, lower quality windows and lower thermal insulation values, “which wastes energy and creates humidity problems”.

• Recreational vehicles are built with materials that create higher levels of volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde, which exposes occupants to long-term health risks.

Jennifer Sutton, senior planner in the planning department, noted in a recent note to council that the Kitsap Public Health District regulates drinking water and sewage disposal, and will require recreational vehicles to meet the same requirements as conventional accessory dwelling units must comply. .

RV sewage tanks would not be allowed to empty into traditional septic systems, and RV residents would have to make agreements with the city to discharge into legal off-site pumping facilities.

If the RV is placed on land with a well, the wells can only serve up to two residences (if the well is designed that way) and adding a third unit of any type would require the well to be converted. private into a Group B public water system, a difficult task that also includes additional costs due to monitoring and reporting requirements.

“Recreational vehicles are not a ‘quick fix’ for creating affordable housing due to clean water and sanitation requirements,” Sutton wrote in the memo.

City staff noted that only one place in Washington allows RVs as their primary residence: Ocean Shores.

Ocean Shores, a seaside town of about 5,500 residents in Grays Harbor County, has permitted RVs as a primary residence in a zoning district since 2008.

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