Mobile home parks aren’t up to zoning
All four mobile home parks in Baldwin City do not meet requirements outlined in city ordinances for various items, including setback distances for city right of ways. In fact, only one of the three is even zoned properly as a mobile home park.
It's a can of worms that the city inspection staff unearthed and it's one that the staff, city planning commission and city council will have to resolve with the present owners. Problems were outlined at Monday's Baldwin City Council meeting.
"In a nutshell, we have discovered that three of the mobile home parks are not zoned MP," said City Inspector Tina Rakes. "They are nonconforming uses. We've done a lot of research on this, but we can't find out why it happened. The mobile home park near the high school is zoned for it, but does not comply."
Rakes said that research has found that a mobile home ordinance was adopted in 1966. Three years later, Baldwin City adopted zoning ordinances. In 1977, the code was codified. But, nowhere in the records can anything be found as far as enforcing the ordinances or zoning.
"I wish I had the answer," Rakes said of the problem that has grown over the decades. "We just haven't been able to magically find those minutes (records). It's a mystery as to what happened. The owners have been patient waiting to find out, too.
"It will at least be something you need to be aware of, because it's a big deal," she said. "Basically, we've got an ordinance on the books that is blatantly not being followed."
The mobile home parks at Baker and Second streets and Baker and Third streets are zoned R-1 (residential). The park at Chapel and Third streets is zoned C (commercial). Neither zoning designation allows for mobile home parks.
But, those aren't the only problems. All four of the parks have mobile homes that encroach on city street right-of-ways. Also, they all have problems with set-back distances of 25 feet. Also discovered along the way was that a mobile home licensing requirement under city codes has not been enforced. In fact, only one of the four mobile home park owners had ever even heard of the requirement.
Mayor Gary Walbridge asked City Attorney Matt Hoy a bottom-line question.
"If we do nothing, are we liable?" Walbridge said.
Hoy said the most immediate problem that needs to be addressed is private structures in the city right of way, as far as liability is concerned. Rakes is concerned about how the situation impacts other zoning and ordinance enforcement.
"If we do nothing, how much more nothing do we allow?" she said. "Some day, we need to clean up this nonconforming use."
That's when the owners of the mobile home parks started addressing the council.
"You're going to destroy our livelihood," said Walter Myers, who owns the park at Baker and Second streets. "We're all caught between a rock and a hard place."
Price Banks, a Lawrence attorney representing Dee Kruger Geiger and Lloyd Geiger, the owners of the park at Baker and Third streets, said Baldwin isn't alone with this problem and there are answers.
"You can take some comfort that you're not alone," said Banks. "The best solution for my clients is to vacate the streets. I think the Geigers are asking that you don't hurt them. We ask whatever you do, that you don't put them out of business."
Walbridge assured the owners the city wasn't out to do that and thought it best that the matter be tabled until the next meeting.
"I think it's fair to say no one wants to cause anyone any pain," said Walbridge. "I don't think anyone feels comfortable making a decision tonight. I know it also can't be put off."
City Administrator Jeff Dingman suggested waiting.
"Let's table the issue and assign planning staff and others to meet with the owners and come up with a set of options," said Dingman. "Apparently, everyone is going to have to give something."
Walbridge said it was clear that present city staff had done its job, but that a workable solution has to be found before the council can make a decision.
"This piece of meat chews tough right now," he said.