On hold…for now

Published 12:49 pm Wednesday, October 10, 2012

GATESVILLE – Not right now.

That’s the answer of the Gates County Board of Commissioners as they wrestle with a measure to possibly allow manufactured homes in an R-1 district through a special use permit.

The latest debate on this issue was part of the board’s Oct. 3 meeting. There, the commissioners, in a 5-0 vote, opted to wait until the first of next year to further address the issue. In the meantime, the board asked Gates County Planning Director Morgan Jethro to gather details on her suggestion to first develop a “Community Core” (a designated overlay district within the county’s villages) and present that plan to the commissioners at their January 2013 meeting.

At the board’s Aug. 1 meeting, Commission Vice Chairman Henry Jordan introduced two measures dealing with that issue – to revise the table of permitted uses in the zoning ordinance to allow mobile homes (singlewides and Class A doublewides) in R-1 zoned districts by special use permits (currently, mobile homes are not allowed in an R-1 district); and lower the cost of a special use permit from $500 to $100.

One month later, the commissioners heard a plea from Planning Board members who expressed concern over protecting the integrity of existing residential areas located within the county’s villages.

Jethro continued that plea at last week’s meeting. She said at their August meeting, the Planning Board, in a 3-2 vote, opposed a proposed text amendment to allow manufactured homes, both single and doublewides (mobile homes) in the R-1 District.

“While this may be a quick fix to a long standing problem, I strongly encourage that the Board of Commissioners not to make this drastic change,” Jethro suggested.

Jethro added that she and the majority of the Planning Board felt that permitting manufactured housing in the R-1 zone has the potential, “to degrade the village centers and will lead to a reduction of property and home values in the most populous of areas.”

“It also removes the continuity of the existing housing and ruins the potential for those villages to establish historical districts in the future, by allowing a hodgepodge of housing options,” Jethro stressed. “There are proven correlations between the establishment of National or State Historic Designations and a significant increase in property value, as well as marketability and sale potential of the property.”

Jethro said according to her research from Camden County, a close neighbor with similar characteristics as Gates County, in their “villages” they have designated an overlay district, called a “Community Core”, which does not permit manufactured homes in the village centers and encourages commercial development. Currituck County does not permit singlewide homes, only doublewides in these areas.

“I would strongly encourage the Board of Commissioners to take the route that Camden County has and allow the Planning Board time to get back to work designating prime commercial corridors and create the community center overlay districts within the villages,” she stated.

She added that manufactured housing has been an issue in Gates County since the inception and adoption of the Zoning Ordinance in 2007.

“While I will agree that the document has made it quite difficult for citizens to construct manufactured homes, the Planning Board and I have made great strides to make the process less convoluted for the citizens, by creating the text amendment that permitted the replacement of any manufactured home with another, regardless of size (upgrades and downgrades are permissible),” Jethro noted. “The Planning Board and I will work diligently to create the Community Overlay zone and have it ready for adoption by the end of 2012, if the Board will agree to give us the time that is required to create a quality product. The Planning Board and I agree that adopting this text amendment to permit manufactured homes within the R-1 is a rush decision to find a quick fix to a problem that has never been dealt with properly. By allowing this change to the Zoning Ordinance, there will be far reaching negative affects to Gates County other than a reduction in property values. The quality of life for its citizens will diminish, and the marketability of their property on the real estate market will become substantially more difficult.”

Based on the comments made during a public hearing that followed her comments, it appeared that Jethro wasn’t alone in her opinion.

“In the area I live in a one acre home lot is valued at $43,000 with singlewides, doublewides and duplex apartments sitting all around your property,” said Dan Bazemore of the Eure community. “So the statement as having these manufactured homes cutting down on your appraised value for tax purposes, it’s my understanding that it’s the same value for the land no matter what type of house sits on it. The land didn’t go down in value; what went down in value was the manufactured home itself because they are taxed differently.”

T.C. Vaughan of Eure, a member of the county’s Board of Adjustments, said he opted to build a traditional home in 1980 rather than investing in a manufactured home.

“My home is now worth triple what is was in 1980,” Vaughan stated. “Therefore the taxes have gone up. Then I purchased a mobile home, a 1995 model. The taxes on that home are $40.53. It would take 41 of those mobile homes to equal the taxes I now pay on the house that I built. Ya’ll need to consider that for the citizens….what the investments are on a regular home and a manufactured home and how that impacts the county’s revenue stream and the county’s future.”

Linda Hofler of Hobbsville, a member of the Planning Board, said she didn’t want to see a rush to judgment on this issue.

“We need time because sometimes a quick fix leads to more problems down the road,” she said. “We need to take a hard look at this, not only for the taxation part, but for the future of our county. It’s important to preserve the core areas of our villages and then look at the rest of the county. Most of our county is zoned agriculture and you can place a mobile home in those areas.”

Two other Planning Board members, Chuck Brothers of Drum Hill Road, and Joe Greene of Eure, also spoke during the public hearing.

“I realize there are some issues with this text amendment proposal,” said Brothers. “There are some areas in our county where people are restricted in doing something different. I also recognize that you can’t fix something in five minutes that has been going on since 1999 when this zoning ordinance came in. The Planning Board needs time to study this. Empower the Planning Board to act on this. We and the commissioners do not need to keep passing this back and forth. We need to come together for the good of all our citizens.”

“This is not an easy decision to make and we need some time to study this further,” Greene stated. “We need the time to do it right.”

Earl Rountree of Sunbury said his sister began her life as a property owner in a mobile home before having a traditional home built.”

“We have people here in our county who live in very expensive homes in nice neighborhoods who are saying they don’t want any mobile homes that will mess up their house values,” Rountree noted. “Then look at the other side….what right do you have to tell someone they can’t invest in a mobile home? If it’s primary use area for mobile homes, then it should have been zoned RMH-1. But it wasn’t done that way. Someone years ago zoned it R-1.”

Jordan added his comments concerning the Planning Board’s decision in opposition to the text amendment.

“We presented a plan to you that would not allow manufactured home in a community core district; this sounds like that you would look at how to implement this overlay district, but you would still be considering allowing manufactured homes in R-1 districts that are not located in these community core districts,” he said. “This looks like to me that you’re eliminating the Board of Adjustments. They are the ones responsible to look at all the issues of a special use request to see if it fits. They need the opportunity to do what that board is designed to do.”

Jordan said he favored giving the Planning Board the time it needs to develop the overlay districts within a community core area, encouraging them to bring back a recommendation that considers all sectors of the county.

“I understand the discussion about property values, but at the same time I want to make sure that you’re still considering allowing manufactured homes by special use permit in other R-1 areas,” he stressed. “We also need to accommodate those who are low income. I’m not saying the whole county needs to be this way, but certainly you have to give consideration to all aspects of this issue.”

Jordan motioned to allow the Planning Board to bring back a recommendation by the commissioners’ January meeting for implementing a manufactured home provision in R-1 and also a community core overlay and commercial development.

Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan offered a second and the motion was approved without objection.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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