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Federal suit charges Pearl discriminates against multi-family housing

By TED CARTER 

Pearl’s efforts to put manufactured home parks in the city out of business is rooted in a “purposeful discrimination” against low-and-middle-income housing, a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of three owners of longstanding parks in Pearl charges.

Jackson lawyer John G. Corlew’s suit takes aim at Pearl’s effort to use the parks’ non-conforming use designations to keep the owners from filling vacant lots in their parks.

From there, Corlew’s suit targets a range of conditions Pearl’s new “Rental Housing Code” has placed on manufactured home parks and apartment complexes. The code is specifically directed at rental housing, including manufactured homes, “to the exclusion of other properties,” Corlew said in the 13-page filing that he asked in mid August to amend to include Mayor Brad Rogers.

“The code is designed to place economic burdens on its target class,” the suit claims, and is “an effort to destroy the economic viability of rental properties.

» READ MORE: Circuit judge rules for filling vacant mobile home lots in Pearl

Rogers and the City Council adopted a rental code that went into effect last October requiring that manufactured home parks and rental complexes build community storm shelters able to accommodate all residents and withstand the force of a F-2 tornado. In addition, the city mandated apartment complexes be retrofitted with interior fire sprinklers.

The code followed with a June 2013 adoption of a minimum size requirement of 1,400 square feet for manufactured homes and set size requirements for multi-family apartments ranging from 850 square feet for one-bedroom units to 1,500 for units with two or more bedrooms.

More recently, Pearl’s mayor and council have agreed to consider a far reaching ordinance that aims to erase all “non-conforming” uses from the city’s property rolls. Manufactured homes and apartment complexes are specific targets of the ordinance.

City officials cite public safety and the potential for manufactured home parks and multi-family complexes to hurt the value of nearby properties. James Bobo, who has been Pearl city attorney since 1995, said he wrote the ordinance after concluding the City had created a void in public safety through lax land-use policies. “Now, the City leaders could sit on their hands and hope the folks in apartment buildings don’t burn to death… or they could sit on their hands and ignore the fact that Pearl is located in one of the most active tornado alleys on the planet,” Bobo said in an email earlier this year.

Corlew represents the Homewood co., owner of Grove Acres Mobile Home Park; Lodes Inc., owner of  the of the Robinson and Romona mobile home parks; and the Cary S. and Dorothy B. Bierdeman Revocable Trust, owner of Bierdeman Mobile Home Park. Pearl had refused to allow the parks to fill vacant lots but reversed its policy after the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in a similar Richland case that putting manufactured homes on empty lots is a legal continuation of a non-conforming use and not an expansion of one. In an August ruling, Madison-Rankin Circuit Judge John Emfinger cited the Supreme Court decision in ruling that Grove Acres’s non-conforming-use status does not prevent it from refilling its empty lots.

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About Ted Carter

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