Lewes planners review code for mobile homes

Nonconforming status prevents renovations, upgrades
The Lewes Planning Commission is crafting an ordinance that would assist existing mobile home parks – nonconforming structures – with renovation and replacement of homes. BY NICK ROTH
June 9, 2014

Residents of the Abbott Park mobile home community want to renovate and upgrade their homes, but it will take a change to Lewes city code to allow them to legally do so.

Mobile homes are not permitted in Lewes, and existing mobile homes are considered nonconforming structures. The nonconforming status prevents residents from acquiring building permits to upgrade or replace their homes with new mobile homes.

Working with Abbott Park residents, the Lewes Planning Commission is crafting an ordinance that may fix the problem, and if adopted, would apply to all Lewes mobile home parks. While Abbott Park is the only case, planners are putting regulations in place for other mobile homes parks that may be annexed into Lewes in the future.

“This is an interesting situation because from the legal side of things, the zoning code is doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing,” said commission attorney Michael Hoffman. “That is when uses are nonconforming, the idea of the zoning code is to abate those nonconforming uses.”

Abbott Park attorney Tim Willard said the code as it stands is sending a clear message.

“What that really means is it's removing the use – it's extinguishing the use,” he said. “It's telling these people to leave and get out.”

He pointed to the city's core values to make his point, specifically protecting the city's internal community and diversity.

“The big picture for them is they want to clean [the community] up and make it nicer,” he said.

He said he does not believe forcing residents out is what the city wants to do.

"When I hear talk about affordable housing, this is a pocket of affordable housing,” he said.

From a policy standpoint, Hoffman said, the commission should recognize this nonconforming community exists and their problems should be addressed. Hoffman and members of the planning commission and city council have been working with Willard to draft an ordinance that satisfies both parties.

As drafted, the co-op of Abbott Park must file and register a site plan by a certain date. If that occurs, then individual owners may modify the plan to replace their mobile homes with smaller modular homes or stick-built homes. Some Abbott Park residents do not agree with eliminating mobile homes completely.

“If a mobile home were to go in there, it would have to be brand new,” said resident Karen Barnes. “The co-op would not allow a used mobile home, not even a year.”

Resident Carolyn Rash also noted that brand new mobile homes are very nice and will not be a detriment to the neighboring community.

Abbott Park residents collectively own the land at 111 S. Washington St. Decisions about the park are determined by its own governing board. If the city moves forward with the ordinance, Hoffman said, individuals would be required to obtain the consent from the owner – the co-op – before modifying Abbott Park's recorded plan to get a building permit.

The process tripped up many members of the commission. Both parties agreed to meet in private to iron out more details before bringing the draft ordinance back before the commission. Items to be worked out include specific details about minimum space between structures and set backs.

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