Battle over modular home ensues

Sussex County staff, board of adjustment, applicant locked in dispute over code
January 9, 2019

Sussex County staff, the board of adjustment and a Pennsylvania couple are locked in a battle over placing a modular home in a manufactured home park near Bethany Beach.

The two sides squared off during the Dec. 10 Sussex County Board of Adjustment meeting.

On one side, Sussex County Director of Planning and Zoning Janelle Cornwell says code states that only one stick-built or modular home is permitted for the manager of a manufactured home park. The park, a former fishing camp, has been in existence since before adoption of county code and is nonconforming.

On the other side, Tim Willard, the applicant's attorney, says precedent has been set, as four special-use applications were approved for stick-built homes in Simpson's Mobile Home Park over the past 13 years, the latest in 2014.

Willard said the board based its decisions to approve the homes on whether each one would substantially negatively impact neighboring properties.

In addition, he said, because no dwelling has been on the lot for several years, it lost its nonconforming status, which dictates another manufactured home must be put back in its place.

Cornwell acknowledged there are four stick-built homes – as well as 14 manufactured homes – in the park, and said the board should not continue to make the same mistake. She said the homes would lead to the creation of a hybrid community that would not comply with established lot sizes and setbacks. She said an application of this type has never been filed before.

Jason and Stacey Harshbarger, who live in Pennsylvania, have filed an application for a special-use exception to place a modular home in the park located on a parcel west of Indian River Inlet bridge near Delaware Seashore State Park. The park is located across from the South Shore Marina community.

Only pilings remain of the former manufactured home on the $350,000 lot.

Cornwell said there are 18 occupied lots in the park with four stick-built homes and 14 manufactured homes.At its Dec. 17 meeting, the board voted to table the application to its Monday, Jan. 7 meeting.

Couple goes to court

The application dates back more than a year when the couple was denied a building permit and the chance to file for a special-use exception application.

After an appeal to the board on the decision was denied in September 2017, the couple filed a lawsuit in Sussex County Superior Court. On Aug. 29, 2017, Judge E. Scott Bradley ordered the board to hold a public hearing. He ruled the board was aware of the four other approvals, but took no steps to determine why it had approved virtually identical applications. “The board's failure to do so was arbitrary and capricious,” he said.

When asked by board member Howard Workman why the couple did not replace the old manufactured home with another manufactured home, Jason Harshbarger responded that he wanted his 2,500-square-foot, two-story home to be more storm-proof. In addition, he wanted to provide off-street parking under the house, utilizing the small lot size and building vertically on the same footprint.

A 1,176-square-foot, single-story manufactured home could be placed on the same lot, Cornwell said.

Willard said the park is unique because it is zoned MR, medium-density residential. “To allow single-family homes in MR zoning – you have that authority,” he told the board.

Homeowners association President Steve Golding, who has an approved stick-built house on the east side of the Harshbarger property, said the group supports the couple.

Dave DeCristo, whose home was approved in 2014, said he was told by a county employee that a manufactured home on his lot would not comply with FEMA flood regulations. “I was told I could not put a manufactured home there, so I upgraded to a stick-built home,” he said.

Two nearby residents spoke in opposition to the application. But when one of residents referred to a concern for an impediment to his view of the bay from his balcony, board Chairman John Mills shut him down, saying court cases have determined view is not a factor that can be used in making a land-use decision.

Terace Lynam, who lives adjacent to the park, said surrounding residents purchased their homes knowing there was a manufactured home park there. Now, he said, two-story homes are built that have changed the sight lines. “It could be a domino effect where the trailer park turns into a stick-built community by exception and not zoning laws,” he said. “The park is really compact and blocks everything. Market value is driven by seeing water. Going two stories up blocks the view and affects values.”

Willard said if the couple is permitted to place a home on the lot it would be built to county code, placed on pilings, be more hurricane resistant and allow for more parking in the community.

“The home would not substantially adversely affect the neighboring and adjacent properties; in fact, we feel the enhancements proposed will substantially improve the community and related home values,” Willard said.



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