At its Feb. 24 meeting, Franklin County Area Plan Commission reviewed a conditional use application submitted by Tina Hartman to allow up to five recreational vehicles to be parked on her five-acre plot in Butler Township.

Hartman explained there is currently a cabin on the property built in 1977 with electric service and a septic system, used by the previous owners as a family getaway for the past 25 years. The county's zoning code allows two RVs; Hartman is applying to allow five RVs to be used exclusively by her and her family.

While Hartman has no plans to offer commercial campsite rentals of any sort, she is seeking to set up her property to be in line with Indiana campground regulations. The initial plans are to utilize the half-bath and kitchen of the cabin and only hook up RVs to electrical service. Plans do include the addition of a septic holding tank to allow hookup for RVs. All RVs are planned to be located within 100 feet of the existing well, in compliance with Indiana public campground code.

APC member Robert Braun voiced concern over having six dwellings - one cabin and five RVs - on one septic system. Hartman replied the septic system for the cabin is oversized at 1,000 gallons, the same size used to support a three-bedroom home. Additionally, the cabin will not be used as lodging, only as a gathering space. With Braun still concerned, Hartman replied the site will only be used for weekend recreational use and will not require high water usage tasks like running a washing machine or dishwasher. The septic system was installed in 1996 and has supported five families for weekend recreational use since then.

APC president Ruthie Mannix opened the floor for public comment, allowing each speaker five minutes. Stephanie Graf Bohman, the real estate agent who worked with Hartman on the purchase of the property, spoke first. She noted the property has been on and off the market since 2018 and was an expensive piece of property. Bohman argued the purchase increased the value of neighboring parcels by elevating the property sale price and, because RVs are easily moved, private campground use would not negatively impact adjacent property value like a mobile home would. The property was on the market for an extended time, giving neighboring property owners opportunity to purchase it if they chose.

Neighboring property owner Michelle Wilson asked if the cabin would count as one residence, allowing only one camper. Mannix responded the zoning code allows the storage of two campers. Wilson continued to explain the previous owners – Back family - only used the property for day use on two or three holidays during the summer, never staying at the property overnight. Wilson argued the lot was not big enough to support the placement of five RVs, due to the site's topography.

“Right now, it's like a beautiful park-like setting, the Backs maintained it immaculately, it's beautiful. But it's only two acres in the front and the rest of it is a ravine and woods, so I can't see how they're going to fit five campers. They would all be visible from the road, for sure, and from the Fellers' property and our property,” said Wilson.

Hartman replied the front half of the property is two-and-a-half acres. She explained both sides of the property have existing vegetative screening and the front has some existing screening which they plan to add to, per zoning code screening requirements; only two RVs would be visible from the road.

“Our goal is not to be a shantytown … and I'd also argue that there is nothing in the law that says how often you're allowed to use your property and how often you're allowed to be there,” Hartman responded.

The APC was notified 34 minutes into the meeting the link sent out to allow remote access to the meeting was incorrect and board member Connie Rosenberger was unable to connect. After a further five minutes, Rosenberger was connected to the meeting.

Marvin Roell, one of three brothers owning the property on the east and south sides of Hartman, spoke next, directly questioning Hartman.

“Tina, are you a city girl, or you got property out in the county, right now, other than this?” he asked before continuing to question her over the site's septic system.

“Do you just plan on having two people in a RV, maybe at all times? Or, what happens when you invite your friends? And do you folks in all them RVs have kids?” Roell asked Hartman.

Hartman replied the septic is oversized for the cabin per the local health department and the original septic permit. While the site is not required to meet state code for a campground, she has taken their requirements as a guideline and plans to install an additional holding tank.

“We're not trying to dump sewage into the ground, obviously. If we have 10 people at the cabin using the restroom for one day, I don't think that's going to overflow the septic,” Hartman said.

Roell lambasted Hartman.

“Uhhh, commodes, used to be five-gallon flush, then they got ones that get down to about two-and-a-half-gallons, so I don't know what you would have there,” he said. “But that's why I was asking if you got kids in there or, you even invite your friends in. All of a sudden, instead of 10 people, you can have 25, 30, 50. Now they're going to have to do their business somewhere, and I can just about guarantee you that septic system is going to be a workin'. And what happens when those leech lines clog up? It's going to start bubblin' up. And then it starts going down, I realize all your property slants to the back side. It gets down into Big Branch, and I know the neighbors right there, they got a pond down there. And they don't want to have that sewage going down over top of the ground if that septic tank overflows. But I could see five RVs could be big problems with the number of people you bring in.”

“Mr. Roell, you need to address your remarks to us and not to Ms. Hartman,” interjected Mannix.

Hartman explained she had performed a great deal of research and the recommended capacity for water usage and septic tanks. She argued weekend use of restroom facilities is not likely to exceed the system's capacity. If the site's usage does tax the septic system, they will have it pumped more frequently.

“What do you consider the acreage of the grassy area out in front, like where you're going to put your RVs and the cabin that's already there? Because if you've got five acres all together, how much is grass? Roughly. Acre? Is it an acre?” Roell again questioned Hartman directly, interrupting her as she tried to answer.

Hartman replied the front is 2.48 acres before the property drops off. She explained there is a substantial amount of brush that would be cleared to make room for RVs.

Roell asked Hartman how far the RVs need set back from the property line. Hartman replied the zoning code requires a 30-foot setback. Roell explained he built a pole barn approximately six years ago and was required to stay 50 feet off the property line. Hartman read the section of the Franklin County Citizens Zoning and Subdivision Control Code to Roell, detailing the setback requirements.

Roell asked Hartman a series of questions about the specifications of the cabin, including details of the kitchen, bathroom and flooring. He asked Hartman about the ownership of the property. Hartman explained she is the sole property owner with plans for the family to own the property together.

“Now, this property is strictly going to be for so-called recreational activities. Now, when you get set up, what are you planning on doing as far as recreation? Because how many of yous got the all-terrain vehicle, ATV? How 'bout a side-by-side? You ever plan on getting' them, just to go buzz around? Because you're gonna' have to do something on that property! And you don't have enough room in the back to do nothing because of all the trees, the brush and the deep valleys so then that ATV ain't going to work, or the side-by-side back there.

“So, you're gonna' have to get on the road and travel our properties just to buzz around, and we don't want that,” Roell scolded Hartman.

“Mr. Roell, could you address the board with your concerns?” Mannix asked Roell again, 11 minutes into his diatribe.

Roell continued to ask Hartman directly, again ignoring Mannix's request, inquiring about the age of the RVs. He explained how difficult it is to move mobile homes. Hartman explained basics of RV maintenance and the importance of keeping them roadworthy. After two more minutes, Mannix asked Roell again to speak to the board and warned he'd be asked to finish his remarks shortly.

“How many vehicles you gonna' allow back there?” Roell directly addressed Hartman.

For the fourth time, Mannix asked Roell to direct his question to the board. Mannix explained the zoning code allows one parking spot per RV.

“And then your kids bring their friends, they bring their friends, there could be 25, 30 vehicles back there,” Roell again chastised Hartman.

“With all due respect, it would be unneighborly of myself or my family to tell a neighbor when they can have their family over and how many cars they are allowed to have in their driveway,” Hartman replied. “The zoning requirements are that you have one parking spot per RV; there is an existing driveway, there is existing parking, there will be an additional gravel driveway going around the property to ensure there is no mud, no track marks from the RVs, or anything like that. Our goal isn't to spend $120,000 on property and money on an RV and trash the place. Our goal is to make it really nice and quiet, and obviously screen it, since no one wants to see us, we'll make sure that happens.”

Roell asked Hartman for more specifications on the RV connections, asking for details on the difference between dependent and independent connections. Hartman explained dependent sites are not connected to sewage and water but independent sites are.

After 17 minutes, Roell returned to his chair and neighboring property owner Charles Feller spoke next, where the story will continue in next week's edition.