Wednesday, June 5, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Rezoning mobile home parks not straightforward, according to Planning Commission

Last August, City Council acknowledged that mobile home parks are a crucial housing option that can help combat Austin’s affordability crisis. Council gave city staff direction to identify mobile home parks that have improper zoning and work toward appropriately rezoning the sites. In preparation for Council to hear these cases, the Planning Commission heard 18 such cases at its May 28 meeting.

Out of the 18 rezoning cases, the commission recommended all but two.

The mobile home park at 1430 Frontier Valley Drive was not recommended to be rezoned from single-family to mobile home (MH) zoning due to concerns that the rezoning would also alter the site’s FLUM – or future land use map – to a higher-density land use against neighborhood wishes. At 6111 S. Congress Ave., commissioners offered no recommendation on the zoning change as they felt that adding vertical mixed use to the current zoning instead of changing the zoning to MH would be a more beneficial way to encourage maximum affordability at the site.

For the Frontier Valley site, commissioners divorced the zoning from the FLUM, two components of a site’s zoning that are usually taken up together. Commissioners acknowledged it was not common practice to have a FLUM that does not correspond to zoning category, but argued that keeping a land use compatible with lower-density development would disincentivize high-density development.

Susana Almanza, the president of the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan Contact Team, told the commissioners that the neighborhood opposed the FLUM change. She explained, “We want to retain the right in the future to negotiate if someone wants to come do high density in our community.” Leaving the land use as-is with mobile home zoning would require a developer to ask for a zoning change for higher density and come before the Planning Commission at a later date. Doing so would trigger an alert to the community.

A FLUM is a map that provides broad direction as to the type and location of future development. When aligned with mobile home zoning, a FLUM can correspond both to higher-density single-family and mixed-use land use. Currently, the mobile home park on Frontier Valley Drive has a single-family land use.

According to city staff, there was a mobile home land use designation but it was discontinued in 2010.

Commissioner James Shieh noted that it seems counterintuitive to associate a mobile home park with a high-density land use when code requires each mobile home to have a minimum of 4,500 square feet per lot. In SF-3 zoning, a house and an accessory dwelling unit are permitted on 5,750 square feet.

The commission voted 10-2 to leave the land use in the FLUM unchanged. Commissioners Greg Anderson and Patrick Howard voted against the motion.

However, the commissioners decided that high density was a favorable idea at 6111 S. Congress Ave.

Leah Bojo, who is with the Drenner Group and was representing the property owner, told the commissioners, “I think there is a better solution for this site.”

That solution entailed rezoning the front portion of the mobile home site to add a V – a designation for Vertical Mixed Use Building – to the site instead of downzoning it to MH. The current lot is 8.4 acres, 1.76 of which is zoned GR-MU-CO-NP.

Bojo explained that by adding the Vertical Mixed Use Building zoning, the property owner could have the opportunity to redevelop the site with up to 200 affordable units. Current mobile home residents on-site would have the first opportunity to rent one of the apartments at their current rate, which would be locked in for a longer period than the residents’ standard month-to-month leases.

Residents of the Congress Avenue mobile home park expressed their lack of support for the proposal.

Commissioner Conor Kenny addressed the residents to say that affordable apartments would allow them to have a better chance of stable low rents in an area that is being rapidly developed. “I think you guys are in a really precarious situation long-term,” he said.

Shieh said, “This is a great idea to create a lot more affordability.”

Due to their support for the multi-housing project, the commission chose to vote 8-4 to give no recommendation in the rezoning of this portion of 6111 S. Congress Ave. to MH. Kenny and commissioners Todd Shaw, Yvette Flores and Robert Schneider voted against the motion.

Although all the other mobile home cases on the Planning Commission’s agenda were recommended to Council for rezoning to MH, the park at 7100 E. U.S. Highway 290 Service Road currently has a valid petition against its rezoning. Heather Chaffin with the Planning and Zoning Department noted that the petition has 36.21 percent of eligible signatures. With a valid petition, if 20 percent or more of landowners within 200 feet of a property oppose a rezoning, a supermajority (or nine members) of Council must approve the rezoning for it to take effect.

Council will hear the mobile home cases at its June 6 meeting in conjunction with a code amendment that would allow mobile home parks to accommodate up to 50 percent recreational vehicles. Current code does not legally permit RVs in a mobile home park, even though it is a common occurrence.

Photo from the U.S. National Archives.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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