By TED CARTER
Reacting to last week’s Mississippi Supreme Court ruling, the City of Richland says it will let Cleveland Mobile Home Park resume placing mobile homes on vacant lots in the park.
Mayor Mark Scarborough said Monday the only condition is that installation of the manufactured homes meets current state and city codes, including a city requirement that the homes be placed on cement slabs.
Michael Cory Jr., Cleveland Mobile Park’s attorney, said the park owner had once planned to put at least a couple dozen new manufactured homes on vacant pads in the park at 110 Old Highway 49 South.
Richland had refused to allow replacement homes in the park on the basis that the park was a non-conforming use and that installing new homes ran afoul of rules for non-conforming uses.
The Mississippi Supreme Court said otherwise last Thursday in upholding an Appeals Court ruling that blocked Richland’s attempt to stop a mobile home park from re-renting vacated mobile home pads.
The unanimous ruling could prove troublesome for Pearl’s efforts to designate apartment complexes and mobile homes as non-conforming uses and may be an obstacle to Ridgeland’s plans to retroactively apply lower density limits and designate multi-family complexes that don’t comply as non-conforming uses. The ordinances of both cities are in litigation before Madison-Rankin Circuit Judge John Imfinger, whose ruling in Richland vs. Cleveland was reversed by the Appeals Court and Supreme Court.
At issue in Richland was the authority of the City to prevent the 138-lot Cleveland Mobile Home Park from moving mobile home to vacated lots. The Mississippi Court of Appeal deemed Richland’s ban on lot re-use “arbitrary and capricious and illegal.”
Richland’s appeal to the Supreme Court got the same treatment.
Richland’s interpretation of its zoning law “was both arbitrary and capricious and violates” Cleveland Mobile Home Park’s “constitutional right to enjoy its property,” the high court said.
In their appeal of Judge Imfinger’s ruling, owners of the mobile home park argued that Richland’s zoning ordinance applied to the mobile home park as a whole, not to individual lots within the park. The owners argued that as long as they did not expand the non-conforming use, the park’s operation was permitted.
The key, they said, was that re-filling the lots was a continuation of an established use, not an expansion of a non-conforming use.
The Mississippi Manufactured Housing Association and Mississippi Home Builders Association joined Cleveland Mobile Home Park’s appeal.
The Manufactured Housing Association said it feared that upholding Richland’s zoning interpretation would have “devastating effects on manufactured-housing parks across Mississippi.” The Home Builders Association said it feared a reversal of the Appeals Court would cause “widespread uncertainty” for all multifamily housing in Mississippi.
The involvement of the Manufactured Housing Association and Home Builders Association added considerable strength to Cleveland Mobile Home Park’s case, said Jackson lawyer Michael Cory Jr., who represented the park along with Dale Danks Jr. Their amicus briefs made the court aware of the case’s importance to property rights law and that the case “was not just a little fight,” Cory said.
Butler Snow’s Joshua Wiener represented Richland.
The ruling affirms a view of property rights the state’s high court established more than 90 years ago, said Ben Williams, a Watkins & Eager partner involved in challenging the anti-multifamily measures of both Ridgeland and Pearl. “Citing both the Mississippi Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, the Mississippi Supreme Court reiterated its 1923 opinion that a citizen’s ‘lawful use of his property is one of the most sacred rights reserved to him under our Constitution,’” Williams said.
He said the ruling will be especially valuable in challenging the retroactive application of land-use measures by Pearl and Ridgeland. “This case is important as it specifically upholds a citizen’s right to lawfully continue a nonconforming use. Simply, the government cannot manufacture a zoning violation by changing the rules,” he said.
Look for the ruling to have a large influence on other metro-area cities’ recent attempts through zoning to eliminate un-favored but lawful nonconforming uses, Williams said.