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City implements ‘van life’ restrictions

Mark Parker

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St. Petersburg City Council members approved changing outdated code language to curb the "van life" trend overtaking city streets. Screengrab.

St. Petersburg officials hope a recently approved ordinance amendment will curb the city’s online reputation as a haven for the bohemian, social media-supported movement known as “van life.”

Rent and hotel costs have soared alongside St. Petersburg’s popularity. While a night at The Vinoy Resort and Golf Club is nearly $500, parking on the adjacent right of way is free.

City council members voted 6-1 Jan. 18 to amend an outdated ordinance that allowed dozens of modified vans and buses to line neighborhood streets and downtown waterfront park. Evan Mory, director of transportation and parking management, said his office began receiving an influx of complaints from residents and business owners in early 2023.

“There are YouTube videos published advertising St. Petersburg as a great place to visit and camp on the street,” Mory said. “There’s even – through Airbnb, you can experience van life in downtown St. Pete for one night for $59. It sleeps four, and there’s zero bathrooms.”

A YouTube vlogger called St. Petersburg’s van life allowances “too good to be true.” Screengrab.

In February 2023, Yahoo Finance reported that the number of van lifers in the U.S. increased from 1.9 million in 2020 to 3.1 million in 2022. The publication stated that 80% personally modified their vehicles.

A new Mecedes-Benz Sprinter is about $52,000. However, someone can find a used van or bus for $10,000; do-it-yourself conversion kits start around $4,000.

The report noted that Florida is among the five states with the largest van life population. Mory explained that St. Petersburg’s code does not distinguish between typical registered vehicles and those modified for camping.

“These vehicles would park for long periods of time and not participate in normal vehicular turnover,” he said.

Mory said the city has regulated “domestic equipment,” including motor homes, recreational vehicles, campers and travel trailers, for over 75 years. Passenger vans less than 24 feet long were exempt.

Nick Bell, president of the Old Northeast Neighborhood Association’s governing board, spoke on behalf of concerned citizens. He said van lifers often create makeshift camps around their modified vehicles, complete with cooking equipment, lawn furniture and sound systems.

“We have no issue with anyone taking advantage of the waterfront facilities at our waterfront parks, from swimming pools to outdoor showers and restrooms,” Bell said. “But we do not believe these vehicles should be allowed to park full-time on residential streets.”

Mory echoed those concerns. He noted a van life vlog advertised the downtown streets as an ideal place to camp next to million-dollar condominiums.

An Airbnb advertisement to “experience van life in downtown St. Petersburg.” Screengrab.

Mory said the problem was not confined to areas around the waterfront and neighborhoods immediately north. He highlighted a picture of RVs parked adjacent to South St. Pete apartments along 34th Street.

The changes now classify vans modified for camping as domestic equipment. Modifications can include generators, water tanks, shade overhangs and solar panels. It also shortens the maximum allowable length to 22 feet.

The amendment does not impact traditional passenger vans, trucks or cars. Modified vehicles can now only park on the right of way for four hours during weekdays.

However, Mory noted that “beginning Thursday and ending Monday morning, they could park for the whole weekend.” He called that “pretty reasonable to implement” and said the restrictions align with “what the city’s done for a very long time.”

The time limits also apply to homes. Residents cannot park domestic equipment longer than 24 feet, including boats and jet skis, in their front yards or driveways. Utilizing a side lot with a six-foot or higher fence is permissible.

Councilmember Richie Floyd said many homes lack alley access, which prevents him and his neighbors from stowing a boat in their backyards. “I understand the concern, and I do think we should be looking for a solution to this,” he said.

“But I’m concerned about the property rights of people who are going to not be allowed to park anything like this in front of their house,” Floyd added. “I really hope that my colleagues are open to us having a conversation about fixing or some modifications to this in the future.”

The Public Services and Infrastructure Committee will discuss loosening domestic equipment restrictions on private property at an upcoming meeting. Floyd voted against the current amendment, with Councilmember Brandi Gabbard absent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Maureen McCann

    January 23, 2024at12:56 pm

    I live off 4th St and cannot navigate the band, trailers and modified living vehicles parking on the side streets.

    I don’t think the city has enough type trucks to resolve my ability to simply approach a corner and safely make a turn.

    They need to hire more meter marking staff to enforce a 4 hour limit.

    Also, we locals would also like accessible parking to enjoy the parks Thursday through Monday. These visitors are taking up all our parking too!

  2. Avatar

    David

    January 23, 2024at8:59 am

    The city’s reputation as a “haven” for van lifers contributes millions to the local economy every year. That’s to say nothing of people who live that lifestyle not because they want to, but because they can’t afford the extortionate rents in this city.

    Just as with the backlash against the SunRunner, this is another example of local government punishing poorer residents, all to placate wealthy property owners.

  3. Avatar

    Tracey Czopek

    January 23, 2024at7:24 am

    Hmm, so we know afforadble housing is a problem and we dont want the vans or homeless on our streets? Maybe we should look at building affordable housing instead of using the little land that’s left in St. Pete for another hotel and luxury apartment complex.

  4. Avatar

    OriginalJud

    January 23, 2024at2:51 am

    Old Northeast residents completely ignore the parking rules of only Southside parking on the Avenues. I have citizen parking notices put on cars on my Ave all the time to help enforce the rules, how come they don’t?

  5. Avatar

    monah

    January 22, 2024at6:24 pm

    St. Pete’s growing NIMBY-ism is becoming really tiresome.

  6. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    January 22, 2024at4:08 pm

    Please put your “toys” away after use. The streets are not a campground. No one wants their streets to be turned into a boat lot either. It’s time for a police crackdown on people parking over the granite curbs, parking on the wrong side of the street and leaving vehicles immobile for weeks. Renting out your property? Provide parking for each unit.

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