Indianola Valley a hotbed for people living in RVs without utilities

            INDIANOLA—Residents and county zoning enforcement have seen an uptick in the number of people living in RVs, camper trailers, vans and other vehicles this year, on both the east and west sides of U.S. 89 in the Indianola Valley.

Sanpete County zoning enforcement has seen an uptick in Indianola, not only in unregistered vehicles, but in people living in them without running water or sewer. The result is eyesores as seen here.

            Indianola appears to be a hotbed, but the problem is also occurring in surrounding counties, as discussed in the Six-County Regional Growth Summit held in Richfield last month.

            With soaring apartment rents along the Wasatch Front and elsewhere in Utah, some people have resorted to living fulltime in an RV or camp trailer on a rural lot without water or sewer, which, in addition to being an eyesore, is illegal.

            James Goode and Tamara Jones, not their real names, are Indianola residents who we have spoken to previously under the condition of anonymity. They are concerned that temporary residents could be impacting their property values and water quality.

            “We are living in tough times,” Goode said.

            Any full-time human dwelling must have water and sewer service, according to the Sanpete County Land Use Ordinance. An owner of a legal RV park must have a land-use permit that includes providing water and sewer hookups for his or her tenants.

            Of course, Indianola doesn’t have an official RV park. People are purchasing on renting lots with the intention of living on inexpensive land in RV-type vehicles, or they are purchasing land with the intention of building, but have experienced obstacles related to zoning or utility permits, funding or a combination of both.

This accumulation of vehicles and junk goes beyond an individual or family living part-time or full-time in an RV or camper, which is permitted under Sanpete County ordinances. Tim Wilson, zoning enforcement officer, is working to clean up such properties in the Indianola Valley.

            Jones said she doesn’t mind that several of her neighbors live in trailers so long as they maintain their lots and dispose of waste properly.

            But both Jones and Goode have observed some “temporary” residents, particularly in Blackhawk Mountain Estates, digging holes to dispose of sewage.

            “Dumping raw sewage directly into the ground is very unhealthy for anyone nearby and can also leach into the water table to affect local wells nearby,” Tim Wilson, zoning enforcement officer for Sanpete County, said on a flyer he prepared recently for Indianola residents. “Dumping your holding tanks on the ground or in a hole dug in the ground is not only very illegal; it is also disgusting.”

            The county land use ordinance says people can live in an RV for up to 181 days a year. However, concerned that some people have nowhere else to go, the county has not been enforcing the ordinance, Wilson said.

            Wilson said he is working to reduce accumulations on properties, such as scrap metal, wood or other debris. He is allowing people to store up to four unregistered vehicles or trailers on a lot, but any more than that is a violation.

            “Piles of garbage and other refuse are not allowed,” Wilson said. “Anything that causes foul odors or smells is not allowed.”

            The scars from the Wood Hollow Fire in 2010 on the west side of U.S. 89 can still be seen in the Indian Ridge subdivision, where craggy, dead branches rise above new scrub oak growth. Some residents who own 1-acre lots in the community lost vacation homes in the fire. Now, several residents have put RV-type trailers on their land, but most only use the trailers as second residences, as the community was designed for.

            Jones is also worried about fire safety, particularly as Utah experiences an unprecedented drought. Jones remembers serious wildfires in 2018 and 2020, not to mention the 2012 Wood Hollow Fire.

            The county land use ordinance was updated for fire safety in 2006 and requires that new subdivisions have a stored water supply equal to 2,000 gallons per lot, accessible to firefighters from roadways. But older subdivisions are not required to maintain such water storage.

            Another challenge Indianola is experiencing is “weekend warriors,” a term some permanent residents use to describe large groups that have loud parties until late at night. Sometimes the partiers are residents, but parties also occur in rented Airbnb homes in the area.

            One resident we interviewed, also on the condition of anonymity, reported that right after his community spent $9,000 to grade its roads, weekend warriors tore up part of a road by doing donuts in an off-road vehicle.

            Vacationers, often from the city, don’t understand that local residents often pay and arrange for the upkeep of their communities in the Indian Valley, the resident said. Permanent residents simply want vacationers to be respectful of the land and of the peace and quiet the community offers.

            Short-term rentals are another problem that was discussed in the Six-County Growth Summit in Richfield last month, and it is a particular problem in counties with national or state parks. In response, HB 407, which passed in the 2022 Utah Legislature, gives municipalities the power to regulate Airbnb rentals according to the desires of local residents.

            Wayne County is one jurisdiction that has created a
short-term rental ordinance to address issues such as permits to operate short-term rentals, maximum length of stay and collection of taxes.