By TED CARTER
A Mississippi Supreme Court ruling that struck down a similar land-use policy in Richland has not dissuaded Pearl from heading to court to stop Grove Acres Mobile Home Community from refilling vacant lots.
The city’s elected leaders have authorized City Attorney James Bobo to continue to defend the mobile home ban in Madison-Rankin Circuit Court and to appeal the case should Judge John H. Emfinger rule against the City. Authority for continuing the fight came through a pair of motions approved at the June 2 City Council meeting.
Emfinger delayed an April 30 hearing on Grove Acres until after the state Supreme Court decided the Richland mobile home park case. The decision that came from the high court in late May reversed an earlier ruling from Emfinger by which he upheld Richland’s authority to prevent Cleveland Mobile Home Park from filling around 30 vacant lots in the park on Old Highway 49. He concluded the new manufactured homes would unlawfully expand a non-conforming use.
With the 9-0 vote to reverse Emfinger’s Cleveland ruling, the Supreme Court said Richland acted arbitrarily and capriciously and stepped on the constitutional rights of the mobile home park’s owners. The Mississippi Court of Appeals used much of the same language in reversing Emfinger.
The victor in the Cleveland case, Jackson lawyer Michael Cory, said he knew going in that “this was not just a little fight.”
It had clear implications for wider property rights across Mississippi and elsewhere, Cory said, citing decisions by the Home Builders Association of Mississippi and Mississippi Manufactured Home Association to file friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of his client.
“Nationally, I think it is going to end up a case that is looked to for guidance beyond Mississippi,” he said.
Emfinger said in an April 30 order that he would not accept further motions in the Grove Acres case, and noted Pearl is a “similar case” to Richland’s.
Bobo, the Pearl city attorney, hopes to change Emfinger’s mind on not allowing further motions. He filed a motion May 19 asking the judge to allow additional briefings, as a way to head off letting Grove Acres owner Homewood Co. “operate a trailer park full of potential death traps until the end of time.”
Bobo argued that the Cleveland decision does not resolve issues raised in Pearl’s fight with Homewood, which bought the park at 2183 Old Brandon Road in 1998.
For a start, Bobo said, Homewood has failed to show that Grove Acres is “a lawful pre-existing use.”
Richland went wrong, Bobo said, by “suddenly attempting to place a new spin on a pre-existing 39-year-old zoning law.”
By contrast, Pearl adopted a new zoning ordinance in 2009 excluding mobile home parks from commercial zones, a process that included several public hearings and guidance from experts in municipal planning.
Once enacted, the City’s “exclusion of manufactured homes from commercial zones has been consistent and evenly applied,” he said, and added Emfinger must decide whether Pearl’s 2009 zoning ordinance is enforceable against Grove Acres.
“It is fundamentally unreasonable for Homewood to contend the City could, and apparently can, never change its zoning law and comprehensive plan,” Bobo said in his motion he hopes Emfinger will consider.
Grove Acres caused its own troubles by attempting to put mobile homes on vacant lots, thus triggering “termination of the nonconformity as to a small portion of the landowner’s land,” Bobo wrote.
The Pearl city attorney is counting on Emfinger to distinguish manufactured homes from other types of homes. “They are nothing like apartment buildings, parking garages or other fixed site-built structures,” Bobo said in an email reply to questions about the motion.
In a tornado, people are better of lying in a ditch than that remaining in a properly tied down mobile home, he claimed.
Pearl is better off without mobile homes, according to Bobo. “Non site-built residential land uses within the city have historically tended to become eye-sores, a detriment on property values and to present a disproportionate drain on city services, including law enforcement.”
Justin Peterson, general counsel to Jackson’s State Street Group, the property management firm for Groves Acres, said the issues in the Pearl and Richland cases are too similar to separate. In both cases, according to Peterson, the non-conforming use “relates to the mobile home park as a whole, not to individual lots.”