Archive for Thursday, February 23, 2006

Answers are still missing on mobile home parks

February 23, 2006

A Baldwin City Council meeting packed with residents and owners of the mobile home parks in town once again addressed the need to bring the parks in compliance with city regulations, but again stalled because of the need for additional information.

But, council members wanted to make it clear to the residents of the homes, many who spoke about the need for affordable housing in Baldwin, that there was no effort whatsoever underway to shut the parks down and force them to move. The problems have occurred by the lack of zoning enforcement and council directive for decades.

"I think that's how we ended up here today," said Council President Amy Cleavinger, who was conducted the meeting in place of Mayor Gary Walbridge who was absent. "It's been ignored and we're not trying to harm anyone in the process. We're trying to deal with this problem and not push it off on another council.

"There is no one in favor of that," Cleavinger said regarding making people move from the mobile homes. "Not one person has said that."

There are numerous problems with the mobile home parks, most of them located south of U.S. Highway 56 near Baker St., starting with they aren't properly zoned for multi-family, much less as mobile home parks. There are problems with set-back regulations, right-of-way encroachment and other items.

The city zoning staff first brought the situation to the attention of the council last spring. In the meantime, there have been several meetings where the items are on the agenda and research has been done. However, no decisions have been made, leaving the residents in limbo. Monday was another example when the discussion was listed on the agenda, bringing the large crowd, but additional information had been learned Monday afternoon which prevented a ruling of any kind to be made.

That left the residents frustrated.

"Something needs to be done," said Robin Evans, who lives in one of the parks. "We don't know what to do. We're not sleeping at night not knowing whether we'll have to move or not."

"I can't afford no apartment in town," said Diana Eikenberry, who added she'd just paid off her mobile home. "It really affects you everyday of your life. I can't afford to move."

What changed Monday's meeting around was city staff meeting with Neil Shortlidge, an attorney recommended by the League of Kansas Municipalities who is an authority on zoning and land use issues in the state. He was forwarded much of the information the city has compiled over the years.

His recommendation was the according to City Code, the determination of a particular piece of property's lawful nonconforming use -- which is what's at issue with the mobile home parks -- is to be made by the city's zoning administrator. The burden of proof on the use is on the owner of the property. The zoning administrator's ruling can be appealed to the Board of Zoning Appeals. From there, it would have to go to District Court.

City Administrator Jeff Dingman said zoning administrator Tina Rakes would start on the next round of fact finding immediately, but didn't think the council should take any action until additional answers are found. That didn't set well with Evans.

"We need some answers starting when?" said Evans. "This further investigation needs to stop. We need to know."

Dingman said staff would continue to pursue conditional use permits. He regretted yet another delay, but wants the situation handled correctly.

"Is it possible to set a date for this to be determined?" said Council Member Ted Brecheisen Jr. "How much longer is this going to take?

"I don't know," said Dingman.

Cleavinger again reiterated that the council has never advocated that people may have to move from their mobile homes. Other council members agreed.

"We don't want to throw anyone out, but we are bound by our city codes and the state," said Council Member Nancy Brown. "We'd like to make the right decision."

That will take time.

"I have a lot of homework to do, but the burden of proof is on the owners," said Rakes.

Dingman said a survey of the mobile home parks would also need to be completed.

Eventually, the council may pass an ordinance to allow conditional use permits, but the council will not make individual decisions on each plat.

"We're going to work out a compromise," said Council Members Tony Brown.

In other business, the council approved a request to replat the Park Side addition. The vote was 3-2, with Brecheisen and Council Member Doyle Jardon voting against the request by developer Michael C. Green on property west of County Road 1055.

"I am not in favor of replatting this. End of story," said Brecheisen.

Approval for final platting of FireTree Estates Phase VI was tabled. The council also approved the $295,632 bid by Meadows Construction of Tonganoxie to repair the High Street bridge between Fourth and Fifth streets. The bid was less than the engineer's estimate. Work should start in several weeks and be completed in 120 days.

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