Vacant-Lot Camping Could Be on the Rise

But in most cases, restrictions prohibit long-term lot camping 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans have seen their priorities shift, including a heightened desire for space. In Door County, real estate brokers have seen this manifest itself in a growing interest in a sector that’s often quiet: vacant lots. 

Kevin Nordahl, a broker for True North, said he’s fielding several calls a week from people who are looking for plots in northern Door County.

“There’s a lot of interest,” he said. “The lower end of our market has gotten a lot of inquiries – more than normal. People are looking for a spot where they can pull a camper and hunker down.”

At the offices of Professional Realty, Holly Thomas has received similar requests. Some calls come from people who are locked down in cities and looking for space to roam until the uncertainty surrounding the virus subsides. But there have also been inquiries from people with spots at RV campgrounds. 

“They’re nervous about sharing common spaces or facilities, and being in close proximity to others,” Nordahl said. “So they might think, ‘Why not buy a lot for $25,000 to $40,000, put a camper on it and be safe? Then in 10 or 15 years, we’ll build on it.’”

But it’s not as simple as buying a lot and camping out in most of Door County. Nine of the county’s townships are governed by county zoning, which allows people to camp on private property for no more than 30 days during a calendar year. Those days include any days when a camper or RV is parked on the property, even if the owner isn’t using it, so an owner can’t set up a camp and return to it every weekend. 

Mariah Goode, director of the county’s Department of Land Use Services, sent an email with guidance on the county’s camping ordinances to real estate brokers earlier this month. 

The Villages of Sister Bay, Ephraim, Egg Harbor and Forestville and the City of Sturgeon Bay all either ban or have tight restrictions on camping on private property. 

One place where you may camp on private lots with little restriction is in the Town of Nasewaupee, south of Sturgeon Bay. The township has no zoning, and camping on private property is allowed by a loosely enforced permit, County Clerk Jill Lau said.

“There’s no limit to how long you can do it,” she said. “I’m sure if you drove around the town, you would find a slew of campers.”

The town requires that campers fill out a simple permit that includes how the person is handling waste, and enforcement is complaint based. The Town of Egg Harbor has a more restrictive camping ordinance that it updated last year after receiving complaints about a camper. That ordinance mirrors the county’s ordinance, limiting campers to 30 days in a calendar year, and it requires property owners to notify the town of the specific days when they intend to camp on the property. 

The limitations are aimed at sanitary concerns, Krauel said, but municipalities also have property values in mind. Nordahl said home buyers generally want to be surrounded by people making like-minded investments, increasing the value of everyone’s property. 

Amy Zacharias works for Action Appraisers and Consultants of Kaukauna, a firm that performs assessments for Sister Bay, Baileys Harbor, Jacksonport, Nasewaupee and the Town and Village of Egg Harbor. She said a person camping on a single property is not likely to have an effect on area property values.

“As long as it’s one camper, it shouldn’t have an impact,” she said. “But if you had several in an area or many campers on a plot, you might see an effect.”

Though Nordahl said most of the potential buyers don’t know about the limitations on use, he understands the lure of the idea. 

“Even I camped out on private property back in the day,” he said. 

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