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Legal filing seeks to halt Pearl’s effort to ease out mobile homes

sprinkler-large_rgbPearl’s efforts to keep mobile home parks from re-renting spaces after a space is vacated have met with a suit from the owners of Grove Acres Mobile Home Park.

Pearl insists its desire to whittle the number of mobile homes in the city is based on the risks to mobile home parks from natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes. It’s further concerned that allowing parks to remove mobile homes and replace them with no end in sight diminishes the value of surrounding developments and property uses, thus damaging the tax base of the city of about 25,000 residents.

The challenge is to Pearl’s insistence that Grove Acres and other manufactured home parks situated in areas zoned for commercial uses are non-conforming. The City says the parks are not entitled to continue the non-conforming use on a rental space after that space is vacated.

The Homewood Co., an affiliate of The State Street Group in Jackson and owner of Grove Acres, 2183 Old Brandon Road, filed the challenge.

» READ MORE: Pearl ordering rental properties to retrofit with sprinklers, build storm shelters 

Justin Peterson, lawyer for State Street Group, said the challenge is strengthened by an August Mississippi Court of Appeals ruling that found a similar ordinance adopted by the City of Richland to be “arbitrary, capricious and illegal.”

“The Court of Appeals held that the City’s position ‘deprived the property owner of his constitutional right to enjoy his property,’” Peterson noted in a cover to his appeal of the City’s refusal to allow re-renting of vacated home manufactured home spaces.

Invoking a zoning ordinance Peterson calls “materially similar” to that of Pearl, Richland had deemed the Cleveland Mobile Home Park a non-conforming use. However, in a key conclusion, the Court of Appeals ruled the re-renting of spaces amounted to an “extension” of the Old Highway 49 park’s grandfathered status and not an “expansion” of it.

The ruling reversing a 2013 ruling by Rankin Circuit Judge Huey Ernfinger emphasized that whether mobile homes or apartments, Mississippi law recognizes that “continuation of a non-conforming use is a well-established substantial right.”

The main requirement is that no expansion of the non-conforming use occurs, according to Peterson.

Judge Ernfinger is expected to hear the Pearl challenge. James Bobo, Pearl city attorney, said he doubts the Richland ruling will have much bearing on the Pearl case.

“The Court of Appeals’ opinion in the Richland matter creates a new ‘right’ which did not previously exist in Mississippi and is instead based upon decisions from Arizona and Idaho, which are states with very little in common with Mississippi. Hurricanes do not hit Arizona or Idaho and their experience with tornados is at best negligible and by comparison to Mississippi non-existent,” Bobo said in an email.

Even more important, he said, is a flaw in the appellate court ruling that difference exists between a “site-built apartment complex, a site-built parking garage, a site-built storage facility and a group of mobile home lots.”

Such a judicial finding, Bobo said, “reflects exactly why local elected officials who live in a community and routinely deal with building, zoning and planning matters” can better judge “the fundamental nature of things and the surrounding facts than others who do not have the benefit of that frontline perspective.”

Peterson said state legislators in enacting Mississippi Code 17-1-39 prohibited localities from zoning mobile home parks out of existence, stating specifically that they must be allowed to be “located in at least some part or portion of the municipality or county.”

Pearl has never had a zoning designation for mobile home parks or manufactured home parks, though it does allow mobile homes – but not mobile home parks — as conditional uses in areas zoned for residential. The aldermen and mayor must approve each conditional use.

Pearl inherited some of its mobile home parks upon incorporation in 1973 and has labeled them non-conforming uses ever since.

Peterson argues on behalf of Grove Acres that Pearl officials had routinely allowed replacement of mobile homes in the park and accepted permit fees for placement of at least 16 new manufactured homes. The Homewood Co. bought the 11-acre park in 1998. The value of the land and manufactured homes there is around $1.5 million, according to Peterson’s filing.

Six lots remain vacant as a result of the city’s refusal to allow replacement of mobile homes taken out of the park.

Peterson noted in his filing that the City zoning ordinance adopted in 2009 specifies manufactured homes are permitted in any Manufactured Home Subdivision District as either owner-occupied or rentals. Manufactured homes also are permitted in an Agricultural District by conditional use.

“Manufactured home parks, on the other hand, are not permitted in any district,” Peterson wrote.

City Attorney Bobo said mobile homes are allowed in residential zones and owners have been able to replace the homes “without running afoul of the City’s zoning ordinance.”

Peterson countered that Pearl has not acted consistently in allowing replacement of mobile homes in residentially zoned areas. Further, he said, the Court of Appeals ruling does not specify that continuation of the non-conforming use be limited to a particular zoning classification.

 

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