A proposal before an Anchorage Assembly committee would ban the popular tourist practice of overnight vehicle camping in commercial parking lots, such as Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer.
The proposal from Assembly Vice-Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson would also create a license for camping parks for recreational vehicles and require health and safety inspections. Anyone operating a RV park without a license could be fined $100, according to the proposal.
Gray-Jackson and Assembly Chair Dick Traini say the proposal, which is still in draft form, would fix an oversight in Anchorage's new land use regulations, which took effect at the start of 2014. They say it appears the new regulations inadvertently allow people to camp overnight in commercial parking lots, which had not been allowed in the past.
"We have people who live and contribute to our community on a daily basis, and they're losing business," Gray-Jackson said, referring to established RV campgrounds. "Plus, it's unsightly."
Lottie Michael, who owns Golden Nugget RV Park in the Russian Jack area and approached Gray-Jackson about the issue, told Assembly members at a Friday morning committee meeting she loses income when RV campers spend the night in parking lots.
Michael said she's noticed more RV campers in parking lots since the law changed. She said she didn't think that was intentional.
City code enforcement officer Jack Frost told Assembly members when it came to authorizing where people can stay in campers or RVs, the new land use regulations didn't specifically exclude commercial districts. He said there are about 755 commercial parking lots in the Anchorage area.
In her proposal, Gray-Jackson, who represents Midtown, is also seeking to license RV parks, and to fine businesses or parking facilities that allow overnight vehicle camping without a license. The current version has requirements for a potable water system, utility connections, washroom facilities and accessory structures. Licenses would have to be renewed after two years.
Representatives of Wal-Mart and Cabela's attended the meeting and said while they supported the concept of the proposal, they were concerned about enforcement.
Scott Patton, marketing manager for Wal-Mart in Alaska, said Wal-Mart isn't trying to offer camping space for customers. But he said the challenge is when campers show up on the lot and don't want to leave.
"Sometimes, it becomes more than a confrontation for us, to be honest with you," Patton said. After the meeting, Patton said his company is also concerned about becoming a drain on law enforcement resources.
He told Assembly members the law would be hard to communicate to tourists who are used to stopping in parking lots while road-tripping to Alaska from the Lower 48.
Kevin Weeks, store manager at Cabela's in Anchorage, told the Assembly his store is accustomed to overnight parking. He said the store provides a separate area for RVs with drinking water and a place to dispose of garbage, though he said customers aren't necessarily invited to stay overnight, and certainly not for days. He said a sign in the lot says, "Overnight parking only."
Similar to Wal-Mart, Weeks said Cabela's isn't a campground and isn't trying to be. But he said that campers and travelers across the Lower 48 are used to staying overnight in Cabela's parking lots, and warned against sending a message in Alaska that it isn't allowed.
"If we can find some kind of resolution where everyone is a winner, that's what we're here to support," Weeks told Assembly members.
It wasn't immediately clear how Cabela's would fit into the ordinance, and Traini said he and Gray-Jackson would be meeting with the company. But Gray-Jackson said Cabela's, an outdoors store, is better geared to host campers than other businesses.
Michael said she's not complaining about campers staying in lots just one night. But she said that's not what she's seen.
"People are parked all summer," Michael said.
Gray-Jackson said the proposed ordinance is aimed less at one-night stays and more at longer term campers who stay multiple nights in commercial lots.