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Medford pitches more car camping

File photo / Mail TribuneA homeless man sleeps at Hawthorne Park in Medford.

Medford might open its doors to more overnight car camping this winter.

Medford City Council will consider Thursday expanding its ordinance to allow car camping at both private and public organizations, though the ordinance specifically wouldn’t allow rent to be charged for the spaces.

Because of House Bill 2006, approved by Oregon Legislature this year, the city could allow overnight car camping in more locations, including at big-box stores as long as they provide bathrooms and trash receptacles.

In 2019, the city allowed faith-based institutions to have up to three parking spaces available for overnight car camping, but the idea never caught on because of the limitations on the number of vehicles. House Bill 2006 fixed that problem.

Walmart is one company that allows car camping in its parking lot, though it doesn’t offer that service in parts of the country that have ordinances prohibiting it.

If an organization wants to have more than three spaces available for camping, it would require prior approval from the city manager to make sure the request takes into account health and safety concerns.

“We don’t want a large number of vehicles that would be unreasonable for the site,” said Eric Milton, city attorney.

The city also wants to make sure that any conflicts with neighboring properties be mitigated.

He said too many vehicles crowded into one area could cause issues such as too much carbon monoxide or the risk of a vehicle fire that could spread to surrounding vehicles.

The city also wants sufficient sanitation services available.

“We don’t want an unregulated operation with some of the negative side effects,” said Mitton.

He said the city has reached out to local groups but hasn’t received any commitments yet from any organization that might want to provide car camping facilities.

“I’ve been presenting this material to various community partners to make sure they’re aware and to help garner interest,” Mitton said.

The new ordinance would not affect Asante’s RV camping operation off Barnett Road, because that operation is authorized under a city manager executive order related to the Almeda fire emergency declaration.

Mitton said the new ordinance wouldn’t change the existing city code that generally prohibits car camping in the public right-of-way.

However, under the Almeda fire emergency declaration, limited vehicle camping is allowed in the public right-of-way for fire victims in front of their properties, or in front of a family or friend’s house.

The city manager recently amended the emergency order to allow registered nonprofits to obtain city permission for regulated vehicle camping in the public right-of-way even if their clients didn’t lose their home in the Almeda fire.

If the council adopts the new ordinance, it should mean that more car camping options would be available in the city this winter.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.