Friday, December 8, 2006

Can trailer parks provide affordable housing?

Developer proposes new mobile home park in Bellevue

Express Staff Writer

Bellevue?s Westwood Mobile Home Park is one of the few remaining mobile home parks that still exist in the Wood River Valley. A proposal by John Scherer, who is in the process of having an annexation application for 280 acres he owns heard by the city?s Planning and Zoning Commission, would add another mobile home park south of the existing city limits. Photo by David N. Seelig

A proposal to build a new mobile home park in the Bellevue area has put a fresh spin on the type of Wood River Valley story that usually ends with the closure of one these low-cost housing alternatives.

As the story often goes, the residents of mobile home parks are only given a short amount of time to vacate the plots of land—land they have often leased for many years—with their manufactured homes in tow.

Invariably, the owner of the land used as a mobile home park has chosen to close the park for financial reasons.

A recent example of this was the 2004 decision by the owner of the J&C Mobile Home Park south of Ketchum to close the park because of a costly shortcoming with its septic system.

High moving costs and a lack of readily available, affordable land to transport manufactured homes to makes the job of relo-cating such homes difficult, if not impossible.

Now, Hailey resident and Wood River Valley landowner John Scherer is looking to buck this trend by building a new mobile home park near Bellevue on a portion of the approxi-mately 280 acres he owns and is asking the city to annex. For the moment, Scherer's annexation application is under consid-eration by the Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission.

Under Scherer's proposal, the mobile home park would be placed on a small section of the entire property. The remaining portions proposed for annexation would include single- and multi-family housing, parks and other open space and, possi-bly, some land set aside for a future Bellevue Junior High School.

A mobile home park would provide an additional way to provide low-cost, affordable housing for valley residents, Scherer said Thursday. He said ordinances passed by various Blaine County communities that mandate developers provide a certain percentage of affordable housing in their developments are certainly effective, but not the only answer.

"We have a one-size-fits-all kind of policy," Scherer said.

Today's manufactured homes are being built at a much higher standard than in the past, he said. And when the aver-age price is between $100,000 and $110,000, it's clear that they are within reach for many people, Scherer said.

"It's a viable way for people to have housing," he said.

Scherer said the mobile home park would have attractive landscaping kept up by a neighborhood association, and would have strict covenants, conditions and restrictions, or CC&Rs.

Homeowners would likely have the option of either buying lots or entering into a long-term lease, he said. The idea isn't to turn around and redevelop the property when a profit can be made, but to create a permanent supply of affordable housing, Scherer said.

"It's not going to be a month-to-month kind of thing," he said.

While Scherer's proposal is almost sure to attract negative response from some, it is also important to note that at least one elected official in Bellevue believes mobile home parks may be a good way to go.

"It's just a highly affordable place for people to get into starter homes," Bellevue City Councilman Steve Fairbrother said Thursday.

In the past year, Fairbrother has repeatedly stated his sup-port for the idea of mobile home parks in Bellevue.

Regarding Scherer's annexation proposal, Fairbrother said a mobile home park would be an excellent addition to the devel-opment's housing types—if done right.

"It gives people a choice," he said.

Scherer's idea for a mobile home park comes at a particu-larly timely moment in Idaho, with the issue of mobile home parks even catching the attention of the state's governor.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Idaho Gov. Jim Risch signed an executive order creating the Governor's Manufac-tured Home Park Advisory Committee.

According to a news release supplied by the governor's of-fice, the committee will address concerns raised by occupants of mobile home parks around the state about the complexity of the laws and rules governing manufactured home ownership.

During Wednesday's press conference, Risch explained the need for the new committee.

"Aging mobile home parks are occupied by some of the most vulnerable people in our society," Risch said. "We need to pro-tect these individuals and provide alternatives to being forced out on the streets due to lack of options and resources."

The committee will be made up of 25 individuals from across Idaho who have expertise related to manufactured home park living and will be overseen by the state's Department of Health and Welfare and Department of Commerce and Labor.

Across the Wood River Valley, there are fewer than a dozen mobile home parks remaining.

The cities of Bellevue and Carey are the only municipalities in Blaine County whose zoning laws allow mobile home parks to be developed. In the county, zoning laws also allow mobile home parks to be developed under certain restrictions.

In Hailey, city zoning laws allow manufactured homes to be placed on individual lots in the General Residential and Lim-ited Residential zoning districts, but don't allow for mobile home parks.

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