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What the Tiny House Movement Could Learn from SKP


wa_desert_rat

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Our 3-week "shakedown" cruise, which was intended to discover how well we and our RV would manage 2 weeks boondocking in the AZ desert, turned into a discovery of SKP co-op parks instead.

 

Before joining SKP almost 2 years ago I was somewhat familiar with the concept but I did not fully understand the concept. Once I did understand the concept it was a revelation to me.

 

I have been familiar with the concept of living full-time in a recreational vehicle since the 1960s. What I didn't understand very clearly was that there were people who lived full time in one place in recreational vehicles. And I did not understand how SKP provided that one place and how that was different from my previous ideas of what RVers do when they're no longer "on the road".

 

Everyone I knew who RVed either had a Sticks'n'Bricks "home" or moved around a lot. I did know about trailer parks full of construction workers in their RVs but I was (and am) under the impression that a lot of those folks also had their own "homes" (and families) somewhere else. But trailer parks - even trailer parks with some RVs in them - are not exactly revolutionary. And certainly the idea of RVers selling their RVs and moving into senior mobile home parks was familiar to me.

 

But the idea of RVers forming a non-profit corporation, buying land and turning that into a place where the share-holders (or "members") could choose to live full-time in their own RVs was the part I really did not understand very well. Because, as most of you well know, communities barely tolerate RVs when they're parked - with no one in them - next to a local voter's residence or moving through on their way to somewhere else. But when it comes to someone living in their RV that tolerance evaporates quickly.

 

A tiny house is not much different from that of an RV and certainly parallels the idea of a "park model" mobile home. Television shows about different living arrangements in new spaces are all over the cable and satellite channels. You can watch the evolution of tree houses, yurts and tiny houses several times a week. You might even get the impression that people are living in them all over the place. But the shows carefully hide one important part of living in new, tiny, spaces.

 

Tiny houses are almost always either hidden from view in remote areas or placed on land where there is already an approved "house". And they often fail to mention the attempts by local governments to ban them from occupying their own land; or even being around at all except maybe as an office, or storage building, or cute garden ornament.

 

When I heard about SKP Park Sierra's first attempts to implement their own ideas for a co-operative RV park I was reminded - yet again - that this is not an easy thing to do. Land owners are touchy about their "land values" and anything out of the ordinary appears as a threat to those values. The founders of SKP Park Sierra discovered that when they bought their first property and were denied pemission to do what they wanted to do with it. They had to sell that first property and buy another one where opposition was not so well organized.

 

After all, no one wants to have a bunch of trailer trash living close by.

 

People who want to live on boats face similar opposition even when that opposition results in a complete change in the culture of the area. Sausalito, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, was an area where live-aboards formed a significant local population. The live-aboard culture was part of the charm of the place back in the 1950s. But as property values in Marin County began to climb voters elected officials who worked to move live-aboards out. They loved the boats and the marinas, mind you, it was just the people who wanted to live on boats they didn't like.

 

They were so successful at moving live-aboards out that when the city tried to apply for some Federal funding it was denied on the grounds that Sausalito had purposely eliminated low-income housing from their community and having low-income housing was one of the requirements for the grant.

 

Sausalito even platted the bottom of Richardson Bay - a long-term anchorage for at least 100 years - and annexed it in order to ban people from living in anchored boats (where the Federal Government had jurisdiction) and even moved out a man-made island (complete with fake palm trees and a beach) which had been an icon of the community. That floating island became a waterfront restaurant in San Francisco.

 

It should be no surprise to RVers that most American communities don't want us living in our RVs anywhere close to them. They don't mind if we drive through and maybe buy some gas or groceries, but they want us to keep on moving out to the state and national parks where we belong. Many municipalities have passed ordinances that forbid sleeping in an RV (which they carefully define) except in places specifically approved for camping. Even on your own property; even next to your own home. These are not zoning restrictions or home-owner-association rules.... these are laws with fines and penalties.

 

It turns out that they don't much like tiny houses, either.

 

So tiny house owners, who are discovering a lot of this AFTER they buy or build their tiny houses, need to take a good look at the SKP model.

 

Or maybe SKP should think of a way to bring the tiny house movement aboard.

 

WDR

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You have some very interesting ideas here. We have our current home-base in a community that was patterned after the co-op idea of the Escapees parks but carried a step further. Unfortunately the club has moved on to new areas and has no plans to create any more co-op parks in the future for any number of reasons. While it could still be done if you had a group who chose to do so, I highly doubt that any of the existing co-op parks would exist today, had it not been for both the financial commitment that they put into them and also the leadership and organization that they provided. Even the community where we base today was begun by the vision of one person who put up both the money to buy the land and the effort to get things started.

 

The difference between the co-op parks and the Rainbow Parks is in the ownership and management. Co-op parks were all sold off to the members who now have total control, while the Rainbow Parks are owned and operated by the business side of Escapees.

 

As a side comment, the community where we presently live has enough Escapee members that the idea of forming some type of loose connection to the Escapee organization has been discussed. I don't see it very likely to actually happen, but we are a place where SKP numbers are very common, just not 100%.

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Co-op parks were all sold off to the members who now have total control, while the Rainbow Parks are owned and operated by the business side of Escapees.

 

As a side comment, the community where we presently live has enough Escapee members that the idea of forming some type of loose connection to the Escapee organization has been discussed. I don't see it very likely to actually happen, but we are a place where SKP numbers are very common, just not 100%.

 

 

Kirk, co-op members have always had total control of their park because each co-op has always been an independent entity with no formal ties to Escapees, Inc.

 

When the co-ops were formed, Escapees existed on a different scale than today - it was little more than a "club" held together by Kay publishing a monthly newsletter on a mimeograph machine in their Airstream.

 

Joe and Kay provided publicity and leadership during the formative stages of each co-op, but each group created their own independent corporation to own and operate their park, independent of Escapees Inc.

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Joe and Kay provided publicity and leadership during the formative stages of each co-op, but each group created their own independent corporation to own and operate their park, independent of Escapees Inc.

Joe & Kay searched out and found & purchased the land for the first couple of parks, or at least Kay's book "The History of the Escapee's RV Club" says that. Exactly how the later ones were formed, I'm not sure. I am not home at this time so can't refer back to Kay's book to see just how many of the co-ops it addresses, but I don't think that it goes into all of them so you may well be right about some of them. Exactly what the involvement of the Peterson's was in all of them, I can't really say but the first two are covered in quite a bit of detail. They did have subscribers signed up and those first owners had much to do with the building of the parks and that part I am sure continued on to the others, but I only know about those in her book because it was before I was involved. I also know that it was a management decision to discontinue that program.

 

Rainbow's End was the first park, followed by Rainbow Plantation and both of those have lots that were sold complete with deeds, which was not continued with the co-op parks.

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The Escapees History book is a very good source of information on the Co-Op's origins, too long to retype here but well worth reading if you care about that sort of thing.

I got lucky a few years ago and found one on Amazon. At that time there were two or three listed there but I just checked and neither Amazon nor Ebay listed any copies.

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One thing that I liked about the SKP Park Sierra co-op park was that you couldn't add "casitas" or items that a future resident would be expected to pay you for; over and above the cost of membership. There were car ports and even some closed-in "porches" but I understood that they were not something that a future occupant would have to pay extra for.

 

In addition any RV placed on a site had to be self-contained (black water, gray water and fresh water tanks), on wheels, and with a hitch (if a trailer). There were some rigs that appeared to be Park Models but they were equipped with holding tanks (our guide assured me).

 

I don't know about other co-op parks but Park Sierra wanted even overnight campers to be SKP members.

 

And it is gated. The DW liked that because if something happened to me she would continue to live in the RV as long as possible and having the security of a gate would be important to her.

 

WDR

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I agree that Park Sierra is a great place. The only thing that would keep us from ever considering a lot there is the restriction on washing machines due to an inadequate septic system. Even though they have a beautiful laundry, having our own washer/dryer is non-negotiable.

 

And, this brings up the other issue. As the various Co-op's are aging, many are facing major infrastructure upgrade expenses. Some may have adequately planned for these expenses, but others may have to deal with some unpleasant expenses in the not too distant future.

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It should be no surprise to RVers that most American communities don't want us living in our RVs anywhere close to them.

 

WDR

You have some very good observations.

 

I served on the Zoning Commission for 20 years in an upscale suburban area in Michigan, Chairman on down... new Master Development Plans, density, trails, recreation, road capacity... The issue of 'less than desirable housing' is very emotional and complicated.

 

For one thing, in Michigan all forms of 'mobile' housing do not pay Local & State Property taxes at the rate that platted lot owners do - not even close. For community infrastructure support... or to an overloaded school district, which receives their operating revenue from such taxes, this is a huge problem... and we can not discriminate between 'older' residents vs 'younger' residents with children. The motivation to zone for platted, taxable, lots is huge.

 

Next is emotion... "You want to place 100 transients next to my $500,000 dollar home"? (In West Michigan that is a nice house) Heard that comment many times... and we do have our very visible examples of trailer parks loaded up with people and upkeep completely neglected. And remember, no property taxes... And the $500k homeowner will gladly tell you how he & wife worked, scrimped, sacrificed, and saved to get there...

 

There are some middle ground areas... there are nice Manufactured Home communities... but the issue is difficult. Don't want to bore you, sorry if I did. But thought I'd give you a glimpse to the 'other' side of these issues.

Jim

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Like Rif, we think that Park Sierra is a nice place. But we also would never consider it as even a long term stop because of the clothes washing issue. The most we would stay there is two weeks.

 

Looking at the financial management of ANY place you would buy into (in any fashion) is critical. One of the first things I do is to talk to people about how things are "run". There are some well run parks and there are some that have not planned responsibly for the future. IMO. And this applies to all parks, not just Escapees CO-Ops.

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Like Rif, we think that Park Sierra is a nice place. But we also would never consider it as even a long term stop because of the clothes washing issue. The most we would stay there is two weeks.

 

Sue and I actually didn't mind doing laundry at the clubhouse. Or, at least, I didn't mind it. I'll have to ask her. But remember that we spent 5 years on a 32-foot sailboat where we had to devote an entire morning to finding water and then getting enough of it to a sailboat anchored 100 yards away from the beach to fill up two 35-gallon tanks Almost anything to do with living on land is easier than living on a cruising sailboat (we didn't call the forward cabin the "zero-gravity training area" for nothing!).

 

You would be surprised at how often we remark to each other how much easier it is in a motor home.

 

So a clean laundry room with half-dozen washers and a wall of dryers isn't that big an inconvenience. :P

 

WDR

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There are some middle ground areas... there are nice Manufactured Home communities... but the issue is difficult. Don't want to bore you, sorry if I did. But thought I'd give you a glimpse to the 'other' side of these issues.

Jim

I think most of us understand all that... but I also think the US has crossed the line from "reasonable" to "unreasonable" in the application of zoning, rules, and laws regarding property. (The UK and other countries are even worse but then they don't have a Constitution that bans taking your property for their purposes.)

 

For instance:

 

The community we live in says we cannot park an 18' utility trailer in our driveway. We can park a 17' utility trailer. The original ordinance specified nothing larger than 16' but then someone discovered that one of the city commissioners was parking a 17' trailer in his driveway. So they changed it.

 

We now have so many laws on the books about what you can keep on your property - or even IN your own home - that many people no longer call the police for help or to report stolen property for fear that instead of catching the perpetrator the cops will look for YOUR violations of these laws.

 

This community requires that any real estate property not platted (but simply surveyed with the survey legally registered) has to be platted before a new building permit can be issued. The registered surveys all show property owned out to the center line of the adjacent street with an easement for the public use of the street. The plats all deed those portions of "our" property to the city. Then, if you park on what had been your property for longer than 24 hours they give you a $150 ticket.

 

Platting a lot costs about $7,000 so a lot of property owners don't bother with building permits and the city doesn't have enough people to go around inspecting for this. One result is that we now have a lot of informants who, for one reason or another, will cheerfully rat out their neighbors about this.

 

Island County says that you cannot sleep in an RV because it is not a "dwelling unit" unless it is in an approved camp ground. Most of Island County is woodland or farmland but all of it is expensive. Several "tiny house" owners have run afoul of this law (including at least one prominently featured on tiny house web sites). Despite the fact that the IRS says that an RV qualifies as a second home. WTF?

 

We now don't think twice when we have to conform to laws about where we can park vehicles that are licensed for use on public streets and highways or how high the grass can get or what trees you can plant (and where you can plant them) or how high your security fence can be (a five-foot high security fence is NOT a "security" fence).

 

None of this would have been tolerated by my father's generation when they returned from World War II.

 

I'm thinking that If the owner of a $500,000 house wants my property to adhere to his standards, he can pay me for it. Otherwise, it's none of his concern.

 

Just my own opinion but it seems to me that all of this detracts from what we think of as a "free" country.

 

WDR

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We now have so many laws on the books about what you can keep on your property - or even IN your own home - that many people no longer call the police for help or to report stolen property for fear that instead of catching the perpetrator the cops will look for YOUR violations of these laws.

WDR

 

Frankly, I am pretty sympathetic to your viewpoint. I always enjoyed the 'KISS' approach to zoning and Planning... I was motivated to seek appointment to the Zoning Commission due to the realization that in 1986, a building boom was about to happen to my 36 square mile Township... and some of the most beautiful land, woods, wetlands, lakes in West Michigan were at risk of disappearing because of Developers that did not care about such things.

 

Given there are lawyers in this world looking for work... and the fact that landowners have a right to use their land... land buy-up and aggregation presented challenges of high-density development that would turn us from a rural Township to a City Street Corner. We were mostly successful in preserving our Natural Resources... but development pressures and new Township leaders are always looking to 'improve' things.

 

I hear what you are saying about other local ordinances that annoyed you... but did you get involved? After 25 years in local Government, my biggest peeve were people that ignored their local elected government... wouldn't attend meetings... investigate candidates... hold elected officials accountable... or volunteer for a committee... and then became surprised/upset when their back meadow became a housing development or their Commissioner took certain 'liberties'...

 

Your issue of 'tiny' houses - have you approached your local zoning people? Public hearing is usually done at the beginning of meetings... present a case, and talk to it. Town homes are the same concept, and have been around for a long time. I could easily see a case for a site condominium zoning district with the individual condo units being RV lots. Very similar to SKP co-ops. And remember the property tax part of that issue... why should anyone not pay their fair share of property taxes?

 

If we ever bump in to each other... lets go have a cup of coffee - the stories I could tell... and the stories I would like to hear!

Jim

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Your issue of 'tiny' houses - have you approached your local zoning people? Public hearing is usually done at the beginning of meetings... present a case, and talk to it. Town homes are the same concept, and have been around for a long time. I could easily see a case for a site condominium zoning district with the individual condo units being RV lots. Very similar to SKP co-ops. And remember the property tax part of that issue... why should anyone not pay their fair share of property taxes?

 

There actually is at least one "development" of tiny houses; in Jackson Hole, WY area. At least they appeared to be building and selling them on TV. But you can never tell about TV.

 

I've been involved in local politics for a long time but it's not a winning battle. Whenever there is a challenge to the status quo the local corporations and business interests mount a vigorous campaign using the local radio and newspaper to keep everything the same.

 

As far as property tax issues go, there is a balance (or there should be a balance). Is it better to evict a home owner who cannot pay RE taxes and put them on the street homeless or can something else be done? Homeless people cost taxpayers money, too. Tiny houses or small living spaces could alleviate a lot of homeless problems but municipalities are too busy protecting property values to see any other pathways.

 

Some of this is changing just because of citizenry ignoring the laws and the enforcement people too short of manpower to enforce them.

 

My house is on a lakefront lot with a dock and I got a notice that a neighbor wanted to expand their docks and was seeking permission from the city planners. Hearing room was packed. Photos presented, arguments heard. But one photo showed the existing docks along the lake (including mine) and another photo showed the "approved" docks. Only mine and my two next-door neighbors. I asked them why the discrepancy and they replied that they have no authority to enforce their decisions. The inescapable question would be, "Why are we going through this farce, then?" but only I thought to ask that.

 

Shrugs all around.

 

Coffee would be great. :)

 

WDR

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Coffee would be great. :)

 

WDR

 

I'd love to buy you a cup of coffee... and swap stories. Great thing about being retired is that we have accrued some real life experiences. Don't know where you are at, but we are heading for the Yuma area... should be there around Feb 1.

 

Incidentally, I retired a couple years early in life because I had gone 'full time' local political office in my 50's (Treasurer)... Served two terms but a new election brought in some old players in a new capacity... and things like you described begin to happen. Life's too short to put up with that kind of stuff.

Jim

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We just returned from a 3-week trip where we spent most of our time at SKP Park Sierra in Coarsegold, CA. Back home (and back to work) in Central WA. We have 2.5 years to go before the DW can qualify for Social Security and retire from her job. :(

 

Would rather be in Yuma, frankly. :P

 

WDR

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Well, I can personally attest, you will like retirement! Perhaps somewhere down the road we'll have that coffee... But for now, you've got me thinking about Site Condominium zoning for 'tiny' homes including park models... infrastructure, tax base, bus stops, age restrictions, LOL!

 

Think I'll go have another cup of coffee. Gettin to be too much like work... :D

 

Have a good one,

Jim

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I like the idea of tiny houses, frankly. But living in one is even MORE difficult than full-timing in an RV. This is because municipalities (including cities, towns and counties) apply all the same restrictions to tiny houses that they do to RVs PLUS there are RV parks that refuse entry to the tiny house people ("no peaked roofs").

 

The RV industry, which is now (again) worth billions of dollars a year, should be fighting all the restrictions on parking overnight in parking lots where the owners (or lessees) are favorable to that idea and municipalities claiming that an RV is not a "dwelling unit" on the Federal level. And if I were an RV manufacturer I think I'd be taking a long, hard look at designing something that would qualify as a "tiny house" AND an RV.

 

A tiny house, off the grid, makes a pretty attractive "dwelling unit" to a substantial minority of the public.

 

WDR

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What federal laws define a "dwelling unit"?

IRS regulations on what constitute a 'second' residence that you can deduct interest on the loan for that 'second' home. Boats & RVs with self-contained waste tanks, sleeping arrangements, cooking arrangements, come under that section.

 

Barb

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OK, I understand the IRS link in terms of tax law, but not in terms of zoning or municipal usage....

 

Local zoning ordinances will determine the nature of lots, homes, outbuildings, etc. It varies from Municipality to Municipality. And while there are concepts of 'Best Practices' widely used in zoning laws, it is all determined & applied locally.

Jim

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