Mobile homes' fate addressed

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— Alternately called "too restrictive" by mobile home park owners and "watered down" by an advocate for mobile home tenants, an ordinance designed to protect mobile home owners from displacement passed City Council on first reading Tuesday night.

City Council members chose the less restrictive (to park owners) of two sets of options presented to them, essentially slowing down the process of redeveloping a mobile home park without stopping it or asking for financial compensation from developers.

"This requires that before you close a mobile home park you talk about it. You discuss the impacts," said City Councilman Jim Engelken.

"When you talk about wetlands you talk about impacts to the wetlands or the flood plains. We talk about property impacts, why not talk about people impacts?" he asked.

The ordinance must pass on second reading to be adopted.

Engelken and City Council President Kevin Bennett had discussed zoning all mobile home parks as Mobile Home in an earlier discussion of the ordinance. Currently, some land parcels in the city being used by mobile home owners are not zoned for mobile home uses, meaning developers may not have to get them rezoned in a public hearing if they want to change the use.

Though Engelken wanted the Mobile Home zoning put in place, he did not have support from other council members or city staff on Tuesday and the proposal was dropped. City Council instead plans to ask developers changing the use of a mobile home park to obtain a conditional-use permit so that developers would still have to go before a public hearing to change the use.

The council also decided not to make mobile home park owners have to potentially purchase or secure new sites if they changed the use of a park, which was one of the options presented by city staff.

Ron Smith, an attorney for the Trailer Haven trailer park who proposed the ordinance, said the lack of any mechanism to make the owners of the parks compensate the owners of the trailers made the ordinance lack any real teeth. Smith wanted the city to maintain a "no net loss" of mobile home housing portion so that developers would have to figure out how to replace the lost spaces or potentially pay up.

"I don't mean to say that this ordinance is going to solve the affordable-housing situation that we have here, but it certainly could be a piece of the puzzle to preserve the existing mobile home spaces," Smith said.

"But if it's watered down to just having the developer of the property come before you and say here is the list of requirements, then all the residents who resided there for how many years now have to leave the city and the city is left with less affordable housing."

Representatives for mobile home park owners, however, said the ordinance that passed was still too restrictive.

"Overall (we) believe the ordinance is not well-thought out, is unfair, and it saddles several landowners in town with this portion of the solution to the affordable-housing problem," said Mark Steinke, an attorney for Westland mobile home park.

The five council members who did end up voting for the proposal said they did not want to overburden developers of new mobile home parks, which they said might be developed in the west of Steamboat area. Asking developers to potentially financially compensate mobile home owners for their loss if they decided to change the use could end up scaring the developers away.

Council members also noted that the proposal might have to stand up to legal scrutiny. If it is too financially burdensome, the city could lose in court, they said.

They decided instead to ask mobile home park owners to make their "best efforts" when they do decide to close down a park and redevelop.

Best efforts would include making a list of the names of mobile home owners being displaced by a change of use and compiling a list of available sites on which to place mobile homes within a 50-mile radius. It would also impel park owners to present the city with their plans for redevelopment.

City Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell was the only one of the six council members present at the reading to vote against it. Connell said it was "inherently flawed" and "reactionary" and it could end up costing potential park developers a lot of money. She said the City Council members had to look at unintended consequences that might come back to haunt them.

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