Harvest Hosts is a program that needs no introduction in the RV community. For many travelers, these free campsites on farms, ranches, wineries, and other privately owned places are a fun and interesting way to meet new people and support local businesses. The subscription service has grown increasingly popular in recent years, and local communities are taking notice.
In San Luis Obispo (SLO) County, California, numerous Harvest Hosts locations have received code violations for operating illegal commercial campgrounds. In the last three months alone, up to 20 different hosts received notices detailing their violations. The county currently has ordinances put in place regulating rural camping, and Harvest Hosts lies in a gray area.
In response, many of these hosts and community members are appealing to SLO’s Board of Supervisors to draft new regulations concerning these unique campsites. Their opinions will be heard in February 2023.
San Luis Obispo County’s current ordinances
Technically, Harvest Hosts camping sites are in violation of the current codes enforced by SLO County. The county has a variety of rural camping ordinances in place, and most Harvest Hosts locations have declined to follow them. Most of the RV camping that takes place with Harvest Hosts falls under the “incidental camping” section of SLO’s Planning Department regulations. Under this section, camping must meet the following requirements:
- Permit Requirements—A site plan review is necessary for properties with 10 or fewer camping units, and a discretionary land use permit is required for properties with more than 10.
- Site Requirements—Various landscape requirements must be met for larger-scale camping to be allowed. These include setbacks, density, and minimum site areas.
In all fairness, most businesses and private landowners are not considering local ordinances when they establish themselves as a Harvest Hosts destination. The site makes it incredibly easy to become a host. Unfortunately, it can be more complicated than just signing up, as seen with hosts in SLO County.
What are the county and community’s concerns?
Most of the violations were due to conflict between property owners, the county, and neighboring residents. In the county’s eyes, hosts are not paying the appropriate transient occupancy taxes. At the same time, they still benefit from the county’s tourism advertising.
Most of the problems are due to negative reactions from community members. The coming and going of RVs bothers many neighbors. They also want to see the proper setback regulations adhered to. In addition, campfires are a large concern, especially in the historically dry climate of California.
Harvest Hosts locations express frustration
For many Harvest Hosts businesses, overnight stays are a significant percentage of their business. This is especially the case with wineries and farm stores. Most visiting RVers choose to purchase something during their stay.
According to Serena Friedman, co-owner of Four Sisters Ranch Vineyards and Winery, many of these small businesses would go under without the support of visiting Harvest Hosts RVers.
SLO’s future plans for Harvest Hosts
San Luis Obispo County recognizes that something needs to change. The current ordinances were not drafted with Harvest Hosts in mind, and it’s obvious that the trend is here to stay.
On October 4th of this year, the SLO County Board of Supervisors instructed its staff to start designing a Harvest Hosts-specific ordinance. Initially a Tier 1 issue, it has since been lessened to a Tier 2. Official hearings will begin in February 2023.
Currently, the county has zero intention of retracting its issued violations. According to Code Enforcement Supervisor Cynthia Alm, “No extensions or permission to disregard County ordinances, State and or Federal Laws have been provided to property owners regarding active violations of County Code.”
We will have a follow up article on this in our next Sunday newsletter.
What do you think? Please leave a comment.