BELMONT-"This is a problem that we didn't foresee," Belmont Mayor Richard Thompson stated to a full room of residents and landlords. The "problem" and the topic of discussion at the village council meeting Tuesday night involved how the town-like the region-can integrate the gas and oil industry for the good of all concerned.
Landowners have begun setting up campsites on properties within the village limits. At last month's village council meeting, two sites were approved for one lot. A neighbor says that the property is now set up for three campers, and a lot across the street has been prepped with three more sites. According to state law, three sites are allowed per lot, but the trailers must be hooked into the town sewer system. The current sites are in compliance, according to Water Board President Kenny Davis.
Belmont does have an ordinance on the books from 2002 stating that small campers are not allowable living spaces and that mobile homes can only be placed in mobile home parks. The fifth - wheel rigs and motor homes - seem to be in a different category, but "we have our legal department looking into that," said Mayor Thompson.
"I am livid," one concerned resident said as she described motorbikes and ATVs "running back and forth" behind her house since the campers arrived a few days ago.
Another resident is upset about the lack of privacy created when one of the trailers set up facing her back porches. "I've lived in this house 15 years. I worked hard for this house. The privacy that I had is gone. I don't understand. They could have parked the trailer a different way, not facing my porch."
Questions about whether the trailers are considered temporary and what kind of time limit constitutes "temporary" were brought up at the meeting. This is also a concern for the town because the residents of these trailers will not be paying income tax, and, as Mayor Thompson pointed out, "The town will not be getting this tax revenue for police, fire and other services" that are already operating on reduced budgets.
The landowners say that they are providing a service for the gas and oil workers because the area is experiencing a housing shortage from the influx of people. "These people cannot find places to live. They're here to work, to do a job, just like other people who travel around for their jobs."
This landlord said his sites house a family of four from Oklahoma, a "Christian" man who is very active in the church, and a man who had to find work to keep his struggling dairy farm going. He added that the workers are "shunned" in many areas in which they travel, but in most towns any change upsets people.
In response to concerns about background checks for his tenants, he said, "You can have a group of gas workers and a group of coal miners and a group of steel workers, and in each of those groups you'll find the same types of people. These people just travel for their jobs."
One resident asked about imposing a ban or an ordinance defining "temporary." The mayor answered that council would have to go through the proper channels to develop the ordinance and hold readings over 90 days to give everyone an opportunity to hear the proposal and comment.
In other business, fund-raising for the veterans' grave markers netted more than $2,300. The markers and flags have been ordered. They will be stored over the winter and placed on the graves next spring.
Davis noted that damage to the village water line system from long wall mining will be repaired.
School and gym rentals for August totaled $550, and rental income is still running higher than in 2011. Mayor Thompson said the zumba program will be adding a Wednesday evening class to the popular Monday and Thursday classes, and basketball groups are booking the gym several nights a week.
Belmont Village Council meets the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m.
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org