Elkins votes on camping ordinance

ELKINS — Elkins City Council is considering an ordinance that would outlaw “unauthorized camping,” just as an influx of workers for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline is expected to descend on Randolph County.

Council approved on the first of two required readings Thursday a proposed ordinance that defines “unauthorized camping” and would make it illegal on both public and private property within city limits.

“‘Camp’ or ‘camping’ means to temporarily stay, reside or dwell in a place, using a nonpermanent shelter, while conducting activities of daily living such as eating, sleeping or the storage of in such, or around, a nonpermanent shelter,” the proposed ordinance states. “The term ‘nonpermanent shelter’ includes, without limitations, any tent, shack, house trailer, travel trailer, motor home, camper trailer, automobile or any form of cover or protection from the elements other than clothing and not considered a permanent residence.”

The ordinance would outlaw such camping on public property: “Except as may be permitted within parks by the Elkins Parks and Recreation Commission, no person shall camp or squat upon any public property owned by the city, including without limitation, streets, easements, parks, dump sites, creek beds, utility substations or parking lots,” the proposed ordinance states. “No person shall leave at any such place any nonpermanent shelter to be used, or that could be used for the purpose of camping.”

This type of camping would also be illegal on private property: “Except as may be permitted within campgrounds or trailer parks designed and approved for camping, no person shall camp or squat within the city for a period to exceed more than 14 days. The days need not be consecutive days,” the document reads.

The ordinance would outlaw such camping on public property: “Except as may be permitted within parks by the Elkins Parks and Recreation Commission, no person shall camp or squat upon any public property owned by the city, including without limitation, streets, easements, parks, dump sites, creek beds, utility substations or parking lots,” the proposed ordinance states. “No person shall leave at any such place any nonpermanent shelter to be used, or that could be used for the purpose of camping.”

This type of camping would also be illegal on private property: “Except as may be permitted within campgrounds or trailer parks designed and approved for camping, no person shall camp or squat within the city for a period to exceed more than 14 days. The days need not be consecutive days,” the document reads.

Anyone convicted under the proposed ordinance would have to “within 48 hours after such conviction, remove or cause to be removed any such items or items in violation of this section,” and “failure to do so shall constitute a second offense.”

Continued non-compliance would constitute an additional offense for each successive 48-hour period. Upon conviction of the second and each successive offense, the offender would be fined no less than $100 or more than $500 for each offense, with the cost of removing and disposing of items charged to the offender.

First Ward Councilman Bob Woolwine asked how the city arrived at the limit of 14 days.

City Attorney Gerri Roberts said city officials had spent significant time deliberating about how many days would constitute the correct amount to specify in the ordinance.

“I agree it is somewhat generic, but it does give you some” type of measuring stick to use, she said.

First Ward Councilman Robert Chenoweth, who is on the Rules and Ordinances Committee, also noted the details of the ordinance were labored over by the committee.

After Thursday’s meeting, Chenoweth said the proposed ordinance was prompted in part by the expected influx of natural gas pipeline workers into Randolph County later this year, but also by recent complaints from property owners.

“There have been some situations where people have been camping … and the people whose yards they’re camping in — this is what’s been reported — they didn’t really want them there but they didn’t have the mechanism to get rid of them, and the city really couldn’t do anything about it,” he said.

The new ordinance would amend Chapter 13 in the city code. The proposed ordinance states “the act of unauthorized camping on public or private property tends to endanger the health and safety of those engaged in such camping as well as the public at large,” and notes “the unauthorized use of public or private property for camping where the property in question is neither intended, nor designed as a campground … detracts from the use of the property for its intended purpose.”

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