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Mobile home rezoning case raises questions about living arrangements

Monday, May 13, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

In an attempt to tackle gentrification head-on, last August City Council directed city staff to begin rezoning mobile home parks that were operating as such but were not appropriately zoned. Six of those rezoning cases came before the Zoning and Platting Commission at its May 7 meeting, but only four of them were recommended for rezoning to mobile home (MH) zoning. The other two will arrive at Council’s June 6 meeting without a recommendation.

The two properties that received no recommendation for rezoning are 7501 Bluff Springs Road and 2807 Cameron Loop. Both properties either have RVs on the site or are looking to expand their residences with more RVs, a use that is not currently permitted under MH zoning.

“It’s not really right to give it MH zoning,” said Chair Jolene Kiolbassa.

Recommending MH zoning for the RV-heavy properties would keep them from coming into compliance, which was the intention behind rezoning these de facto mobile home parks. As Commissioner Ann Denkler noted, “I honestly don’t think this was Council’s intent on the property.”

“We should make sure our mobile home ordinance matches up with the reality on the ground,” Council Member Greg Casar told the Austin Monitor. “We should allow residential RVs and residential mobile homes in all zoning categories, including in the mobile home zoning category.”

Austin’s current mobile home ordinance does not consider recreational vehicles to be synonymous with mobile homes and they are therefore not treated the same. Under code, mobile homes are considered to be stationary residences with leases, whereas RVs are seen as traveling vehicles.

The reality, however, is that there are many cases of RVs being used as permanent residences. Brian Rodgers, one of the owners of the park at 2807 Cameron Loop, explained that 20 out of his 25 sites are occupied by RVs, some of which have been there for two decades. Leases on his property are rarely for less than a year. “People do live in RVs; it’s affordable housing,” he said.

City staff recognized that there is a disconnect between how code views RVs and how they are actually being used. As a result, the Planning and Zoning Department is working with city law to revise the language in the mobile home ordinance.

The mobile home ordinance revision will propose that no more than 50 percent of a mobile home park be composed of RVs. However, Rodgers and several of the commissioners argued that this percentage wasn’t sufficient.

Commissioner David King urged city staff to look at rewriting the code “in a way that doesn’t encourage those RVs to be pushed out.”

Council Member Greg Casar told the Monitor that this is precisely why Council is going to take up the mobile home rezoning cases simultaneously with the mobile home ordinance rewrite at the June meeting. “(It) might mean we need to change that 50 percent to just say that if people live in RVs or people live in mobile homes, they should be able to stay. Our zoning should not plan them out.”

Still, commissioners Ellen Ray, Abigail Tatkow, David King and Ana Aguirre felt that waiting for Council to change the ordinance language and not rezoning the two properties at the meeting could also pose a risk to the mobile home communities that are currently parked there.

“I’m concerned (about) the longer this stays without zoning,” said King. He urged the commissioners to consider the ramifications of leaving the door open to rezone the property later to something else. If the property owners switched gears and decided to pursue another zoning designation other than MH, “We’ve lost our opportunity to have affordable housing here,” he said.

Other commissioners disagreed, arguing that any zoning change on the property would have to come in front of the commission, at which point they would have their due say on the matter.

Nevertheless, the commissioners found themselves inflexible on the matter with the two camps unwavering in support of their viewpoints. The result is that there is no recommendation to Council on how to rezone the two properties.

What the commission could agree on, however, was that city staff needs to update the definitions of what can be considered a mobile home. With RVs, 3D-printed homes and tiny homes all gaining popularity, “it seems to me it’s counterproductive if we don’t encourage this type (of housing),” said Commissioner Jim Duncan.

Commissioner Nadia Barrera-Ramirez was absent from the discussion.

Photo by Koun G from Pixabay.

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