Several businesses in San Luis Obispo County have received notice of violation letters for allowing RVs to stay overnight on their properties through an online platform called Harvest Hosts.
Four Sisters Vineyards and Winery has been a member of Harvest Hosts for two and a half years.
“It’s a wonderful program that at no charge allows recreational vehicles to park overnight at agricultural businesses and enjoy the products of those businesses be there wineries, olive groves,” explained Serena Friedman, co-owner of Four Sisters Ranch.
There are over 4,500 options. One of them is Dark Star Cellars.
“They don’t pay anything to the host, but they are encouraged to buy something from the business, so that’s how it works,” said winemaker and Chief Executive Officer of Dark Star Cellars, Michael Emling. “We started doing it in late 2018. ”
Bringing extra revenue to wineries and farms.
“I think 380 campers in here through the beginning of December, and they spent like $33,000 or something,” added Emling. “That is probably like 4% of our annual sales, but that’s enough to pay the property tax. ”
But several have been forced to cease their operations.
According to the County of San Luis Obispo Department of Planning And Building, 15 to 20 businesses and residences in the last quarter have received notice of violation letters for allegedly advertising their properties as a commercial campground.
“What we are really concerned about is not the commercial activity, the exchange of goods,” said Cynthia Alm, SLO County Code Enforcement’s Building Division Supervisor. “What we are concerned about is the health and safety of our neighbors' unregulated camping, vehicles on private property in which we are faced with potential pollution, vegetation fire.”
Four Sisters and Dark Star Cellars said their businesses don’t fit that code enforcement category.
“We have no tents, no campfires,” said Friedman.
Emling describes it as “just parking.”
“If you went to the RV park, you’d be in a spot with a freshwater source, you’d have a power source, it would probably have a sewage hook up, so you can dump your tanks, we don’t have any of that,” added Emling.
The letters warn that a code enforcement investigation is underway. It also states the following: “An investigation of this nature may result in enforcement action that may include fines of up to $1,000.00 per day and criminal prosecution.”
“We have not progressed to fining anyone at this time. For the most part, the owner is responsible for allowing people to camp on their property without the proper permitting and oversight, many of them have ceased the use,” explained Alm. “I would say a handful have contacted the planning and building department to seek the appropriate permit.”
The issue has been presented to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.
“It seems like a perfectly reasonable thing with minimal to no impacts, and we are going to talk to our planning department about whether we can find a simple way to make that okay,” said District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson. “Right now, the concept of Harvest Hosts doesn’t fit neatly into any of the land use categories that we have. ”
At Four Sisters, the hope is that Harvest Hosts is allowed to operate without a recreational vehicle parks and commercial campgrounds permit.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to be the heroes in this situation and correct what happened from the beginning that can now be a win, win,” said Friedman.
KSBY News reached out to Harvest Hosts, but we did not receive a response.
The issue will be discussed at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.