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    Oldsmar moves to restrict RV stops

    Before a Wal-Mart supercenter opens on Tampa Road, city officials want to pass an ordinance banning overnight camping in commercial areas.

    By ED QUIOCO

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 1, 2001


    OLDSMAR -- City Council members want to make a pre-emptive strike by regulating overnight parking in some commercial areas, hoping to prevent an upcoming Wal-Mart Supercenter from becoming a magnet for camping vehicles.

    The city's effort results from the recent trend of travelers in recreational vehicles camping on the lots of 24-hour stores instead of RV parks or highway rest stops.

    City officials hope to pass an ordinance prohibiting overnight camping in commercially zoned areas before the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Tampa Road opens in mid fall.

    Council members are scheduled to discuss a draft of the ordinance Tuesday.

    "It is easier to stop something before it gets going than to go back and try to remedy something after it starts," said council member Don Bohr. "I don't think we should turn the Wal-Mart parking lot into a campground."

    For years, some campers have been drawn to places where they can park overnight for free and avoid paying the fees at RV parks and campgrounds, said David Gorin, president of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. In the last year or so, more and more campers hoping to pinch pennies have been attracted to Wal-Mart parking lots.

    The draw is more than just being able to park for free, Gorin said. Wal-Mart's parking lots typically are well-lit and big enough so it is easier to maneuver the bulky vehicles.

    Since several Wal-Mart stores are open 24 hours a day, there are employees in the stores throughout the night. That makes the parking lots seem safer than camping at highway rest stops or pulling over on the sides of roads, Gorin said.

    Plus, Wal-Marts usually are near busy highways, and they also give campers the opportunity to restock supplies.

    "All in all, (Wal-Mart lots) present themselves as a pretty attractive thing," Gorin said.

    With about 10-million licensed recreational vehicles in the country, the corporate giant has realized the potential market of RV owners, Gorin said.

    Wal-Mart has increased the number of camping supplies sold in stores, used camping vehicles in advertisements and even published a traveling atlas that marks Wal-Mart stores throughout the country, Gorin said.

    "They have made a concerted effort to attract the RV clientele into their stores," Gorin said.

    While many stores permit overnight parking, Wal-Mart does not encourage the activity, said Daphne Davis, the company's community affairs manager. Stores do not provide camping amenities such as water, sewer or electrical hookups.

    "I can tell you that RVers are good customers," Davis said. "We have not had major problems to speak of. They're respectful of the environment."

    Overnight parking in Wal-Marts mostly occurs in states such as Alaska and Arizona where RV travel is popular, Davis said.

    "I think it's been a little overplayed," Davis said.

    The trend of overnight parking in Wal-Mart parking lots has pulled customers from some RV parks and campgrounds, Gorin said. Those have been "very badly affected by this and have lost a lot of business."

    It is hard enough to compete for campers when they can park for free at store parking lots, Gorin said, but Wal-Mart also is not burdened by the government regulations and taxes that are levied on RV parks and campgrounds.

    "One gets away without any regulation, and the other is heavily regulated," Gorin said. "Wal-Mart is acting like Wal-Mart acts when it goes into any small town. They just eat up the business, and they are doing it to us like they have done to other folks."

    In Oldsmar, the $8-million, 208,052-square-foot supercenter is on 28 acres between Forest Lakes Boulevard and Pine Avenue N.

    The store also is near several neighborhoods, which most concerns Bohr, he said.

    "We have residential communities just north of there," Bohr said. "If somebody wants to go camping, they can go to a campground."

    The store, which will employ about 500 people, will have a full grocery store, an optical center, a photo lab, an auto service station and other shops.

    Council members reviewed a draft of the proposed ordinance at a meeting June 19. That has been amended, and council members will discuss the new draft on Tuesday.

    One of the changes was to include an exemption for camping vehicles stored in self-storage lots, said Nick Staszko, Oldsmar's community development director.

    The earlier draft also prohibited parking recreational vehicles in commercially zoned areas for 24 hours or more, but that gave campers plenty of time to leave before the 24-hour limit. The new draft prohibits parking in a commercially zoned district for 8 hours or more, Staszko said.

    A violation of the proposed ordinance could result in a citation from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the city's Code Enforcement Board.

    "Allowing the extended parking of recreational vehicles in commercially zoned areas can contribute to crime, unsanitary conditions and affect the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the City of Oldsmar," according to the draft of the ordinance.

    As the store in Oldsmar gets closer to its grand opening, city officials also are seeking input from Wal-Mart about its policy on overnight parking of recreational vehicles.

    "We don't need any overnight parking down there," said Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland. "That's what campgrounds are for."

    - Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183.

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