Decision to put 100% Dad on the backburnerJanuary 11, 2024
We Survived a Home Invasion in Costa Rica and AirBnB Shenanigans.January 31, 2024
I want to share a little story about what we have been up too. After traveling for 3 straight years and really enjoying the RV world we decided to purchase or build an RV Park. Having visited over 180 we have a pretty good idea on what works, what is liked, and what is not liked by fellow RV’ers. We initially looked into buying a few parks in middle/late 2020 and ended up not pulling the trigger because surely Covid will create a negative economic impact and lead to better buying opportunities in the near future. Boy was I wrong. Values doubled if not tripled.
I say that to clarify that I am not a clairvoyant genius that can time markets. With the cost of RV parks being driven up by competitive buying of various investment groups realizing how much cash flow is happening we ended up deciding to build rather than buy because frankly we could realize more value that way.
With land prices also shooting up in high demand areas we looked for less obvious opportunities. RV’s have wheels. Florida has become the RV holy land and has insane demand during the 6 cold months from northerners looking to experience a milder winter and full time rv’ers escaping freezing conditions. Our home is St. Augustine, Florida and has an unequaled price boom going on as well. One entitled RV park on the edge on town allowed for 92 sites is on the market for 5 million and you still have to build it. We immediately looked west to Putnam County and were dismayed to realize the county has a 4 RV to a gross acre limit creating a less favorable density.
Then we found a couple parcels in Putnam County that seemed like good fits in the Town of Interlachen. This is a small jurisdiction in the County and when we called about the properties, we were told by the town that RV parks are not allowed as the town zoning ordinances do not allow them. We continued our search elsewhere to no avail and decided to call the Town to see if we would get a different answer or if they were willing to make an exception. Same answer. Since the zoning ordinance would not allow it I got a copy of the town zoning ordinances and went looking for a loophole or way to work around the ordinances.
Once I read the ordinances, I found that there was no direct language preventing them. In fact, there were standards for having them. Once we talked we talked with the town, attorneys, and planners we had a go, I secured the property and hired an engineering firm to help navigate these new waters.
We worked with the Town and they gradually became more supportive once a vision was established. There was a tremendous benefit to the town in having a development like this happen. It’s a Town that has no real draw for visitors. No major employers and the businesses around are not quite prospering. So, a project that brings a rotation of hundreds of well to due outsiders that are interested in spending money in the town and utilizing services would be a significant benefit to the town.
The property we had our eyes on and purchased was a church on 11 acres. The structure was solid rectangular in shape thus easily adaptable to many uses and had a new roof in 2017. The property is directly off a major road and extends straight back in a rectangular fashion making development fairly simple. The land was all high and try already had electric, water, fiber optic, and septic on site. It was on the market a while so we negotiated a fair price and asked for a 6-month contingency to make sure we could change the Future Land use map, Zoning, and create the PUD required to move forward with this project.
At the 6 month mark we still had not accomplished those changes but were willing to roll the dice and completed the purchase anyway. We felt for the price we could not build that same 1400 sq ft building anymore and we basically had 11 acres as a bonus. So even if things did not work our we could do something different with the property or at least resell it after cleaning it up.
Why we like this particular property for an rv park:
The location is central to the town. Connected by sidewalks to the town center so shopping, stores, services, and restaurants are a short walk or bike ride for guests of the RV Resort. Walkability is a huge benefit for weary travelers tired of driving especially when that vehicle is a larger RV. Hitchcock’s Grocery store, Dollar General Market, Dollar Store, Auto parts stores, new fuel station, Ace Hardware, Subway, Dominos Pizza, McDonalds, a few restaurants, auto repair, salon, flower shop , and others are all just a few minutes’ walk from our property. Within a mile are more food and shopping options as well as some town and county parks and recreation.
Interlachen is a small town but recently had the main road SR20 completely redone and widened by FDOT into a 4 lane highway with median and bike trails. The town is positioned dead center between I95 and I75.
Our location in 1 hour from the Atlantic Ocean, the beach and St. Augustine. 1.5 Hours from Universal Studios, Disney, and the rest of Orlando. 30 minutes from Gainesville. 45 minutes from Ocala. 15 minutes to Palatka. 15 minutes to the nearest Loves Truck Center. 45 minutes from Sams Club. 15 minutes to a Walmart and Publix.
The town is small enough to have no traffic jams and no lines for services. Stars are bright in the dark skies without the light pollution from big cities. There are a plethora of recreational activities from springs, river, state parks, hunting, fishing, bike riding, horse riding, motor sports, camping, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, and more.
When we bought the property, it was quite overgrown. Trees were thick and the limbs were hanging down to the ground creating unappealing visuals and zero visibility. As a result, since the property had been unused by the church for a couple years the homeless were able to utilize the property as a safe haven. In fact we even have 2,000 sq ft pavilion on the property we did not know was on the property until I saw the survey. That concrete floor, metal roof, doors, half walls, and screens were a luxury on their own. But add in the fact that the church forgot to turn off the water and electric to the pavilion meant the homeless had a Taj Mahal find in shelter, protection, privacy, and water and electric.
By the time we finalized the sale of the property the church had already realized what had happened and shut off electric and water as well as having trespassed violators. So while we didn’t have any people on the property anymore we did have the unfathomable amount of trash and debris they left behind.
First priority was trimming all the tree branches to around 7-8 feet off the ground to clean up the aesthetics near the road frontage and so I could have better sight lines around the structures. Second was gathering all these limbs into piles on the back side to be burned later.
Then to thin out the thick overgrown underbrush and small trees in the woods to make them more navigable, understand the property better, and to be able to see through them better. I rented a skid steer and bushhog attachment. This was 3 days of fun playing in the woods and testing the limits of the equipment.
After that was accomplished, I cleaned up the pavilion I had initially intended to leave until demo. But all the debris and trash left behind was bugging my soul. So I knocked down the walls to open it up, removed the screens, removed the kitchen, and shoveled out all the trash and filth left behind into bags. Then I cleaned out the homeless camps in the woods and finally the trash heap behind the pavilion. Scrap metal was collected by some scrappers and some building materials were salvaged by some folks. So all in all only had to make 2 trips to the dump, and the rest was either picked up by recyclers or put in bags for collection day.
Town input & Engineering
We ran into a few snags changing the future land use, vacating road, changing zoning, and developing the PUD. It has been an interesting experience. There were some initial grumblings on social media where several people thought we were building a permanent living trailer park. We did not want a uniformed mad mob out at our first public request for changes, so we created a voluntary neighborhood workshop at the community center. We had around 40 people turn out and voice their objections.
By the end of the meeting everyone was on the same page and were no longer concerned about having pedophiles living near a school, wild dogs attacking, us draining the aquafer, among any other initial complaints. As a result of our first meeting, we had zero people speaking against our project. Our first meeting was not even held because not enough board members showed up to establish a quorum. So we had to reschedule and reissue our 30 day notices which resulted in a 60 day delay. When we finally had the first meeting the zoning board still was resistant to the idea despite recommendations from the town, the town attorney, and the town consultant. It was a pretty unprofessional meeting and ended with a continuance to make sure everything was done legally.
We finally held the meeting and everything passed. We then went to the town commissioners the following month and also was passed with a few modifications. Future land use map, zoning, road vacations, and PUD are all passed and approved.
Currently our engineering firm is working on final site plan and construction ready plans. We have a current layout for 115 sites plus amenities.
Currently the church building is being used as a studio and office for my 100% Dad content as well as office for my real estate dealings. We have 3 RV hookups on the property and rent them out on a site called hipcamp for travelers. So if you are in this neck of the woods come hang out with us.