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A request by Goethe Trailhead Ranch to convert 37 of 73 recreational vehicle sites into stationary park trailers drew sharp criticism from neighbors before being approved by the Levy County Commission on Tuesday.
The Ranch, located at 9171 Southeast Levy County Road 337 between Williston and Dunnellon, is a horse-themed resort with a lighted arena, convenience store, tack and feed store, the Chuck Wagon Diner, 96 box stalls for horses, and access to more than 120 miles of trails in Goethe State Forest.
Laurel Molder and Dusty Parrish, who operate the ranch, said the park unit trailers would have about 400 square feet of space and emphasized the high-quality construction and appearance of the trailers. Parrish showed the commissioners a sample board with the composition "logs" that would be used on the exterior of the units.
Parrish said the acquisition of the units would upgrade the park. He said the ranch currently couldn't deny entrance to any recreational vehicle, no matter the condition or appearance.
The park units will be manufactured in Ocala and cost about $40,000 to $50,000 each. "We're not looking for people who would live in these 400 square foot units," he said.
Molder noted that ranch regulations limit stays to 180-days. She also noted that there is no required break between the 180-day-stays.
County Development Director Rob Corbitt told the commission that the only restriction on using the stationary park model units was that federal regulations prohibit permanently fixing the units in area designated as flood plains and the county's own special exception for the park. He said the ranch is not on a flood plain.
Robert Richardson, a neighbor of the park, said permanently locating units in the park would change the character of the area. "I bought into this for limited and controlled growth." He said the area's rural, agricultural, and forestry nature would be changed if the units were allowed.
Richardson and his neighbors' are concerned that the units will become permanent residences for families.
"The nuclear plant is coming and we're sure the work force is going to use every avenue available for housing," he said. Richardson also complained that the lights for the horse arena are on all night lighting up the adjoining area.
Another resident noted that if people live in the units and had two children in each it would have an impact on the schools and roads.
Molder said the residents were right that she could not prevent anyone from moving into the units and living there for 180 days at a time. She said current rules allow RVs to park for 180 days. But then RVs must move out of the park. But she said they could leave for a day and return for another 180 days.
And she echoes Parrish's comment that regulations do not allow them to turn away an RV because of conditions they deem unattractive or unsuitable. "We have no say over that," she said, but they could control the appearance of the 37 park units.
Corbitt, in response to questions from the commissioners, noted that on top of the costs of buying a unit, the owner would have to pay $1,000 to have it transported to the site and pay for securing it, and other RV parks in the county have park models. He said Breezy Acres Campground on Hwy. 27, between Bronson and Chiefland, have park model units. The units would be consistent with land development, he said. "They are not in a flood zone and they (tenants) are not on the site more than 180 days."
"I don't believe permanency is the issue," said Commissioner Nancy Bell.
Commissioner Sammy Yearty, "How do you deny it when it's permitted and allowed in other areas?"
Denial could pose a legal problem, Yearty said. "If I was her I'd walk next door and file a suit."
County Coordinator Fred Moody noted that the Ranch pays taxes on the land based on occupancy of the sites.
Although the units are individually owned, there would still be a rental payment for use of the Ranch's RV site.
Rates at the park are $40 per night, $105 for weekends, $750 per month. If a visitor stays for 3 months to 180 days (about 6 months) the monthly rate falls to $600 plus electricity charges. All rents are taxed.
Tom Morrisey, a representative for the manufacturer Chariot of Ocala, noted that the park units would also require tax payments to the county for tags and RV decals, just like mobile RVs.
Morrissey also noted "These are not designed for living."
The bottom line, Parrish noted: This is not a migrant workers camp."
The commission on a motion by Danny Stevens approved the use of the park models.