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Planning Commission split between preserving mobile homes and encouraging density

Thursday, June 20, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Council is set to consider a citywide effort to standardize zoning for mobile home parks today, but a few cases still present some wrinkles.

One of those cases, which came before the Planning Commission at its June 11 meeting, sparked a debate about whether blanket rezoning to Mobile Home is the appropriate course forward for mobile home parks that are within high-density development areas of the city.

Comfort Mobile Home Park is located at 7307, 7311, 7401, 7403 East Riverside Drive on what amounts to 10 acres. The site is within the East Riverside Corridor, which is intended to increase density and mobility options within the area.

“With this chunk taken out of the high density, it seems like you’re going to miss some of the mixed-use opportunities and things that kind of make this a vibrant transportation hub,” said Commissioner Todd Shaw.

In an effort to avoid reducing the development potential of the site yet still offer a home for the current residents, Dave Anderson of the Drenner Group, who was representing the property owner, told the commissioners about a proposal he is working on with the property owner and the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan Contact Team.

Anderson explained that the property owner has put a parcel of land two miles from the current site under contract that is intended to replace Comfort Mobile Home Park. He said they would pay to move the residents to the new site, and, “If people are unable to move, we will compensate them.”

Susana Almanza, president of the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan Contact Team, explained that while the neighborhood was supportive of the initiative in principle, the contact team still felt strongly about rezoning the current property to Mobile Home zoning in order to “safeguard the residents who live at Comfort Mobile Home Park from being displaced.”

Commissioner Patrick Howard noted that Council gave a directive to rezone 23 nonconforming mobile home sites within the city to MH zoning, but, “I don’t think they were looking at each individual one.” He said this distinction was worth mentioning, since it’s the role of the commission to examine the individual cases and determine if rezoning is the ideal path for each site to prevent displacement of the community and preserve affordable housing.

In the case of Comfort Mobile Home Park, he said considering the site in the context of Austin’s greater development plan “has provoked a better outcome potentially.”

“I like that the owner is at least trying to meet halfway with the tenants,” said Commissioner Patricia Seeger. “I voted for all the other mobile home rezonings; this one just seems to be a place where we should have density. We should have taller buildings.”

Despite the commission’s general feeling that MH zoning may not be appropriate for this site, Commissioner Karen McGraw felt differently.

“I don’t think we have to upzone every site in the city,” she said. “I think we should save some sites for future generations, and if this is a site that could leave some people living where they live, that could be a good thing.”

With the commissioners split over whether to outright recommend a denial or make no recommendation for rezoning to Council, they voted 7-3-1 to make no recommendation on the case. Chair Fayez Kazi and commissioners Karen McGraw, Awais Azhar, and Conor Kenny voted against the motion and Commissioner James Schissler abstained. Commissioner James Shieh was absent from the discussion.

“Maybe this (deal) will germinate into something or maybe Council just really wants MH zoning,” said McGraw.

City Council is scheduled to consider this rezoning at today’s meeting, though there is a request from the neighborhood to postpone the case.

Image courtesy of Google Maps.

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