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Huntsville Cites ‘Safety’ as Reason for Costly New Mobile Home Restrictions

Council votes to adopt code changes despite citizens’ appeal once again for fair housing standards


By Walker County News Today Staff

The Huntsville City Council on Tuesday voted to impose restrictions on mobile homes in the city limits — following a lengthy workshop and a second round of public comment — citing safety concerns as the impetus for measures not applied to any other type of housing.

Council approved  changes to the Development Code and city ordinances by a 6 to 1 vote during council’s regular session Tuesday night. Ward 3 council member Ronnie Allen voted against the measure after advocating a delay to give council and citizens more time to review proposed changes. Ward 2 council member Tish Humphrey recused herself from the vote.

Some of the changes recommended to council by the city’s Planning Commission involve code that commission member Debra Durda argued, as she spoke during the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting, were absolutely related to the safety of mobile home parks. Durda spoke at the previous council meeting in which citizens protested the proposed restrictions, apologizing for the dissent the commission’s proposal had stirred.

Durda argued this week that the commission’s recommendation for paved streets, entrance lighting, identifying signs and proper drainage were safety features required in all other city subdivisions and that taxpaying, low-income residents of mobile home parks were entitled to the same.

 Ward 4 council member Joe Rodriquez, who said he and at-large council member Lydia Montgomery had toured several city mobile home parks to inspect conditions there, agreed with Durda that mobile home residents deserved the same safety features such as those that would make it easier for public safety vehicles to locate residences inside these parks in an emergency.

But three members of the public, Linda Thompson, Randall Brooks, and Mike Clouds returned to council to speak out against proposed regulations that would significantly increase the cost of occupancy of mobile home parks and are not applied to other types of housing in the city. These include a requirement that all mobile homes must be no older than 20 years, that all mobile homes be skirted, and that each mobile home must have a storage shed.

 Thompson reminded council that mobile homes provide housing to Huntsville citizens who cannot afford homes on permanent sites constructed of traditional building materials.

“Manufactured homes provide for families. There are many city and county residents that are able to live on family land both in the city and county to provide care for their elderly and loving leadership for their younger generations.”

She said her own family was an example of that.  Thompson also cited a case in which someone wanted to invest in a new mobile home park in Huntsville but decided to do so in Trinity County instead because of the unfriendly environment for such housing in Huntsville.

 Brooks, as he did at the last meeting, argued strongly against the proposed 20-year age restriction on manufactured homes when there is no similar restriction on any other type of housing.

He said that if the safety of a mobile home is a concern that a homeowner can obtain a free inspection and certificate of compliance from the responsible state oversight agency and that should be good enough for the city. When this question came up later in the council discussion, there was no answer given to Brooks’ proposal by the city staff, and council voted to adopt the 20-year age restriction.

Mike Clouds asked the council to reconsider its restriction that no new RVs will be allowed in the city for more than 90 days; that is, that permanent residence, even in an RV park, would not be allowed.

“I’m not sure whose place it is to decide what somebody can live in and what they can’t. I know people who live in half a million dollar Coaches, not because they can’t afford a house, but because that’s what they choose to live in.”

Before the vote, at-large council member Don Johnson urged adoption of the costly restrictions, that may force mobile home tenants out of their homes, mobile home parks out of business, and push all future mobile home park development into contiguous counties, by classifying them all as safety measures for the protection of low-income citizens and urging fellow council members to treat the needs of low-income citizens with the same concern they might show for more affluent taxpayers.

The Council did not adopt this recommendation. Clouds also argued that if a storage building is required with a new mobile home that it should be required for all housing in the city. Council later did delete the requirement to force mobile homes to add a storage unit for each.

Though city staff reworked some of the restrictions in response to criticism they were unfair and cost prohibitive, the following remained in the code and ordinance changes that council adopted Tuesday.

  • Manufactured homes being moved in to the city must be no older than 20 years. This is a significant change that will affect the cost of this category of homes. It is also unique to manufactured homes as there is no corresponding requirement for standard homes or apartments.
  • The maximum number of mobile homes per property are reduced from four to two, in effect doubling the shared overhead cost associated with this category of housing.  Any owner wanting to place more than two mobile homes on a single parcel of property, regardless of property size, will have to develop the property to new mobile home subdivision standards.
  • The development of manufactured home parks are now required to be to the same standards as all other subdivisions in the city. This increases mobile home park requirements for:

           a.)    Streets

          b.)     Drainage

         c.)     Sidewalks

         d.)    Underground utilities

         e.)     New lot standards

         f.)      Identifying streets and spaces with signs

        g.)    Entrance lighting

        h.)    All weather roads – paved, impervious surface

  • All manufactured homes, regardless of age, will  now have to be skirted. There is no corresponding requirement for standard homes
  • All mobile home parks will have to have outside signage and improve the utility infrastructure to ensure safe conditions and fire protection.

In other business, council passed a series of ordinances that allow the city to establish one-way traffic and paid parking on Bearkat Boulevard eastbound from University Avenue to Bobby K. Marks Drive, then south to Bowers Boulevard at the Johnson Coliseum on the Sam Houston State University campus. This was the result of an agreement between the city and SHSU to better control traffic and pedestrian safety in this area of the campus.

Council also deeded three segments of city streets in the campus area (.42 miles in total) to SHSU. One segment is the two blocks of Bowers Boulevard between Sam Houston Avenue at 20th Street and Avenue I in the center of the campus. A second segment is on Avenue J south of Bowers Boulevard to 21st Street, and a third is a similar segment on Avenue I south of Bowers Boulevard. SHSU will have ownership of these streets in the future and will be responsible for their maintenance. The city will maintain easements to protect its access to utilities in the deeded area.

Council authorized city staff to begin to charge a credit card “convenience fee” for people who choose to pay city bills and fees by credit or debit card. This is intended to cover the usage fees that the city currently pays to credit card companies when their cards are used. This convenience fee will amount to approximately 2.5% of the payment amount.

 

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