Bonnie and Dick Sage are three payments away from owning their 36-foot RV.
They acquired the vehicle in 1995, having saved for most of their lives to afford such a luxury when they retired.
The sticker price was a little more than $107,000, but they dickered long and hard with the salesman. They agreed to a finance plan and drove the RV home where it’s been parked in the Sages’ driveway for more than a decade without complaint from neighbors.
Now, three years after Mill Creek annexed the couple’s neighborhood down the street from Jackson High School, the city is threatening legal action against the Sages if they don’t remove the RV from their property or build a fence that will screen at least 80 percent of the vehicle from view.
A letter arrived from the city’s community development department in May of 2006 warning the Sages that since their property was part of Mill Creek they could no longer park their RV in the driveway.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Bonnie said. “No one has ever complained about it. We’ve lived in our house 19 years and haven’t had any problems with anyone until now.”
The Sages didn’t ask to be annexed; they didn’t vote to be annexed. If there were any questionable land uses in their neighborhood at the time of annexation, the Sages figured they’d be phased out as real estate traded hands. They were mistaken.
“Mill Creek residents place a high value on the aesthetic appearance of the community and have adopted provisions … designed to maintain and protect property values,” associate planner Christi Amrine wrote in a letter dated May 25, 2006. “While county regulations allow the storage of recreational vehicles, boats and trailers in front yards; they are prohibited by city regulations.”
Bonnie and Dick, both in their 70s, say they’ve invested most of their savings into their house and their motor home. The money they get from Social Security pays the bills, utilities, food, clothing and other essentials.
“When Social Security goes up, the cost of Medicaid goes right up with it,” Bonnie said. “We’re on a fixed income under normal circumstances. In this economy, we’re really strapped. We can’t afford to build a fence around our RV even if we had the room in our yard to do it.”
They inquired several times with the city, hoping there was some misunderstanding. The letter stated that RVs, boats and similar vehicles may not be stored in a resident’s front yard; the Sages’ RV was parked in the driveway.To their dismay, however, city regulations don’t draw a line between street facing driveways and front yards.
They finally pleaded their case to the City Council earlier this month.
“You are seven people sitting on the City Council, whom I believe have never even been in our neighborhood — except one of you during the last election,” Bonnie explained to council members on Tuesday, Nov. 11. “But you are assuming that we are ruining the aesthetic look of our neighborhood … We have worked long and hard and made sacrifices to buy this motor home only to have you come along and take it from us.”
Council members appeared sympathetic at the meeting, which suggested to Bonnie and Dick that the city might grant them an exception after all. But it turns out the council was not interested in amending city regulations or permitting violations in exceptional circumstance, according to a Nov. 12 letter to the Sages from City Manager Tim Burns.
“The City Council did discuss your request and were clearly of the opinion that the regulations in their current form are appropriate and are in the best interest of the citizens of Mill Creek,” Burns wrote. “The city’s regulations apply to all its citizens; the city cannot require some to follow the regulations and not require others to follow those same regulations.”
Bonnie couldn’t find words to express her disappointment.
She and her husband have put more than 100,000 miles on their RV. They’ve traveled to Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, Arizona, Canada and up and down the West Coast.
“To think we are three months away from finally owning our motor home — a dream we’ve had for so many years — and to be forced now to either sell it or our house absolutely breaks my heart,” Bonnie said.
“I don’t understand why the city is trying to create such havoc in people’s lives. We’ve been a part of this community for 19 years and never once had problems with anyone.”
The Sages have less than a month now to find a temporary place to store their RV while they consider their options.
“We can sell it; we can park it on a farm out in the boonies and pay some farmer to let us keep it there and probably never use it again,” Dick said.
He’s considered posting a sign — once the motorhome is relocated — to tell the “beautification police” that his driveway is still designated for RV parking.
“If I asked them to use money from their beautification budget to store my RV, they’d say, ‘We don’t have the budget to do that.’ Well, I don’t have the budget to do that either,” Dick said.
“It’s like they’re saying to us, ‘We took you in and we don’t like the way you live. So change or move.’”