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Florida City Looks for Ways to Welcome RVers

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

Hundreds of Dunedin, Fla., residents recently fought to keep RV camping out of Honeymoon Island State Park – and won. But, according to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, with all the hubbub, the city wants to make sure it doesn’t come off as unfriendly to RV users.

To that end, officials will meet next week to explore whether there might be a more appropriate place for a small, luxury RV park within the city limits – preferably near downtown, the beaches or other city sights.

The idea is purely in the brainstorming stage now. But Dunedin Planning and Development Director Greg Rice said he’s confident the visitors that such an amenity might bring could help generate profits for the city and area businesses.

He will meet Tuesday with City Manager Rob DiSpirito and Economic Development Director Bob Ironsmith to discuss the possibilities.

“The question is does the community want to bring some of those individuals in and, if so, where would we park them,” Rice said.

The discussion was prompted by a resident who contacted the city amid this summer’s controversy over Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to allow RV camping at Honeymoon Island and other state parks.

Scott promptly canceled the idea after dozens of Dunedin residents, elected officials and other stakeholders turned out in protest.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that some opponents said they were worried about the potential impact of RVs, generators and crowded campgrounds. Others decried the environmental impact on animals and trees that would’ve had to have been moved to accommodate the campsites.

In a July e-mail to DiSpirito, Dunedin resident David E. Thomas Jr. suggested the city might “deflect attention away from Honeymoon Island” by offering up alternative space on privately owned or city-owned vacant land.

“RV owners … want nice facilities and are willing to pay dearly for good locations,” Thomas wrote. “Word gets out virally among RV owners about top locations proximate to other services.”

Motorhomes can sometimes cost in the six figures. A luxury RV park, which offers clients concierge- and bed-and-breakfast-type services, might be able to attract some of those more affluent travelers, Rice said.

But the biggest obstacle would be finding a site large enough in Dunedin, which is 95 percent residential, to accommodate such a project.

The state’s Honeymoon Island proposal called for dividing a 17.5 acre parking lot into 45 spaces.

Rice said the former Nielsen property, off Virginia Street, is potentially large enough to accommodate year-round RV parking, but it’s so “far off the beaten path.”

“I think you’d have to have an attraction, whether that be downtown or the beaches,” Rice said, “because that’s the point of RV parks – so visitors will visit city businesses and see the sights.”

In addition to location, issues including noise, aesthetics, zoning, lighting, potential impacts to neighborhoods also would have to be addressed, officials said.

RV industry officials say the Florida market would support an extra camp space, especially in January through March, when occupancy levels are full with snowbirds and other visitors.

Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA), which represents vehicle dealers across the state, said they would support an RV park in Dunedin “100%.”

“A lot of people can’t afford high-end hotel rooms to come to Florida,” spokesman Dave Kelly said. “If we don’t have campsites for people to come and stay, they’re going to find somewhere else to go, and that hurts us in every phase of tourism throughout the state.”

Bobby Cornwell, executive director of the Florida RV and Campgrounds Association, which represents the owners of 380 privately- and government-run parks, said his group also would support additional camp space.

As long as it doesn’t hurt private park owners, that is.

“When county- and/or state-owned parks charge below market rate, it’s impossible for the private parks to compete,” he said. “But everything else being equal, the more (RV parks), the better.”

There are already at least four privately-owned RV parks within a two-mile radius of Dunedin, officials said. That includes Dunedin RV Resort and Blue Moon Inn on Alt. U.S. 19 in Ozona, just outside city limits.

Dunedin Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski, an RV owner, said she had lots of questions that needed to be answered before she could lend her support.

For example, would the park be city-owned or privately owned? Where would it go, and how would it impact the environment? She’d need assurance that it’d be purely recreational – not someplace people would live permanently.

She’s only camped at state parks, which are in heavily wooded areas, not visible from the road. She said she’d want something similar for Dunedin.

“I wouldn’t want a lot on State Road 580 with a lots of RVs. And that wouldn’t attract a lot of people anyway,” Bujalski said. “It should be a recreational attractor versus a detractor.”

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