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Thursday, July 21, 2016 by Jack Craver

Del Valle neighbors lobby against mobile home park

Del Valle residents who came to a meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission on Tuesday to oppose the construction of a mobile home park in their area clearly didn’t do themselves any favors with some of the arguments they presented against the requested zoning change for a parcel of land at 6101 Ross Road.

“We don’t want that increased vandalism, that increased crime out there,” said Patricia Burton, president of the homeowners association for the nearby Los Cielos subdivision.

In addition, other residents complained that the influx of low-income housing would overcrowd area schools and lower their property values, which a couple noted were only beginning to recover from the hit they took during the recession.

The seven commissioners present at the meeting sat expressionless during the testimony. They did not address the stated concerns about crime in their subsequent comments, focusing instead on traffic and flooding.

“That makes you want to vote against them for saying stuff like that,” said Commissioner Betsy Greenberg in an interview with the Austin Monitor the following day. “The fact that people are poor doesn’t make them criminals.”

Greenberg added that she did not believe her own parents’ property value was damaged by a nearby mobile home park.

And yet, the commission ultimately gave the neighbors what they wanted, voting unanimously to recommend zoning the 10-acre plot of land SF-4A, which allows for small, single-family lots.

Commissioner Gabriel Rojas made the motion for SF-4A zoning after it became clear that the manufactured housing zoning requested by the applicant and recommended by city staff was not going to get the six votes necessary for the commission’s recommendation.

At least two commissioners had voiced concerns about the requested zoning. Commissioner Ann Denkler said she didn’t believe that Ross Road would be able to accommodate the increased traffic, and Commissioner Jolene Kiolbassa said it didn’t make sense to put mobile homes between two clusters of single-family residences.

Burton told the Monitor after the meeting that she isn’t opposed to mobile homes, noting that she used to live in one. But there is already another large trailer park nearby, she said.

“Why do we need all the mobile homes out in Del Valle?” she asked, detailing the flooding issues she experienced during the last two major rain events.

There’s still a good chance, however, that mobile homes are coming to the area. The recommendation made by ZAP relates only to 10.6 acres of a 60-acre parcel, the rest of which is located outside of city limits and is under the jurisdiction of Travis County.

Because he believes that the owner, Najib Wehbe, will likely be able to put mobile homes on the other 50 acres of land, Rojas was willing to zone the small portion of the parcel in the city for single-family residences. During the meeting, he spoke in favor of the proposed mobile home zoning as a way to encourage a mix of housing types, as well as affordable homes, in the area.

Wendy Rhoades, who handled the zoning case for the Planning and Zoning Department, said on Wednesday that the fact that Dry Creek snakes through the 60-acre parcel (but does not touch the portion in the city) would likely make any type of residential development challenging.

What prompted Wehbe to seek the zoning for mobile homes, explained his agent, Alice Glasco, were the ongoing attempts to relocate residents of the Cactus Rose Mobile Home Park in the Montopolis neighborhood. The residents are being pushed out to make way for an apartment complex planned for the site. It was very difficult, she said, to find mobile home parks that would allow people to bring their own homes, particularly older ones occupied by many Cactus Rose residents. But Wehbe would be willing to accommodate them, she said.

Some activists who are supporting the Cactus Rose relocation efforts rejected the Del Valle site as unsuitable, however, saying the lack of access to public transit would put the relocated residents in a tough spot.

Kiolbassa said she wasn’t convinced that mobile homes truly represented an affordable housing option.

“You’re living on property that not only doesn’t belong to you, but there can be at times a lot of restrictions on how your property looks, on forming a homeowners association,” she said. “I would see apartments or multifamily – where you don’t have the big buy-in – as being more affordable.”

Rojas rejected that argument in an interview with the Monitor, saying that the market had clearly created a demand for mobile homes.

He also said that while he didn’t like hearing people complain about smaller homes setting up nearby, he was somewhat sympathetic to the point that some on the east side may feel that they are being asked to accommodate a disproportionate share of the manufactured housing stock, while the west side of town remains largely insulated from such low-income housing.

Glasco told the commission that she would have to check with Wehbe to see whether he would agree to the single-family residence zoning. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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City of Austin Zoning and Platting Commission: The City of Austin's Zoning and Platting Commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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