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County’s attempt to regulate RV parks also includes rural mobile home parks

Alamance County’s planning board has endorsed a raft of proposed upgrades to the county’s rules for manufactured homes and RV parks in response to a growing interest in these more transportable varieties of housing.

But these suggested modifications, which could go before the county’s board of commissioners as early as February, have left one local businessman fearful that these rules may ultimately hamstring one of what he considers the few, viable options for affordable housing that exist outside the county’s cities and towns.

Philip Morgan, a locally-based mobile home park developer and manager, believes that the proposed regulations will make it all but impossible to set up or expand mobile home parks in areas under the county’s land use authority.

Morgan is particularly critical of land spacing requirements in the proposal that would mandate up to 450 feet between new RV or mobile home parks and existing structures like schools, churches, and even other residences. In his view, these zones of separation would treat affected developments as threats to community standards rather than as the reasonably-priced sources of shelter that he deems them to be.

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“If we need to have 450 feet from our property line to any existing [structure], we haven’t found a place [in the county] where [we] can do it,” Morgan went on to elaborate in an interview earlier this week, “and the folks who can only afford to live in these places should not be treated like they’re adult businesses.”

The stigmatization of mobile homes and RVs as a vice wasn’t the original intent of the rules – at least not according to the county officials who’ve helped craft these prospective regulatory amendments.

Tonya Caddle, the county’s planning director, contends that the proposed changes were inspired by a recent boom in the demand for RV parks – a trend that she says has prompted the planning department to revisit the relevant section of the county’s unified development ordinance. Under the existing rules, mobile home parks and RV-oriented developments are effectively served from the same ladle – with identical lot size requirements that fail to account for the smaller areas occupied by RVs.

In order to better accommodate RV parks, the planning department has proposed scaled-down lot sizes for recreational vehicles as well as a host of other provisions that would apply to both mobile homes and RVs. The department’s suggestions include wider buffers and setbacks for sites that specialize in both forms of housing as well as stricter inspection standards and a biennial permit renewal requirement for these developments.

The department also proposed the aforementioned land-spacing mandates, which had originally called for 1,000 feet of separation between any new mobile home or RV development and existing structures deemed worthy of protection. New developments were also expected to maintain this same distance from existing mobile home and RV parks – a stipulation that Caddle says aimed to prevent Alamance County from being overwhelmed by these “transitory” residences.

Alamance County planning director Tonya Caddle

“Are we going to relax the ordinance and then be inundated by them?” the planning director inquired rhetorically during a recent meeting of Alamance County’s planning board.

The 1,000-foot recommendation nevertheless raised some concerns for the planning board’s members, who ultimately delegated a subcommittee to take a second look at the planning department’s proposal.

The subcommittee’s members reconvened with the rest of the planning board on December 9 and presented a modified land-spacing provision that adjusts the required separation based on the number of lots in a development. Under this amended proposal, a mobile home or RV park with three to seven lots would need to maintain a distance of just 25 feet between its property line and the nearest protected structure. The required separation would go up from there until it reaches a maximum of 450 feet for developments of 25 units or more.

The basis for this modified rule was explained rather succinctly by Rodney Cheek, a member of three-person subcommittee who presented the trio’s work to the full planning board on December 9.

“We did dial that 1,000-foot [provision] back pretty good,” Cheek told the rest of the board at a regularly-scheduled meeting that evening, “and hopefully that makes everybody have a good feeling about it.”

The subcommittee’s suggestion initially raised some concerns for the planning board’s chairman Ray Cobb, who suspected that the proposal, as written, would require twice the intended separation between two neighboring mobile home or RV parks. Cobb eventually set his objections aside after the county’s interim legal counsel suggested a workaround to address this potential misreading.

“It will protect the homeowners, the schools, and the churches. It’s not that mobile home parks are bad necessarily, but that’s some the perception from the community around them.” – Planning board member Bill Poe

Other members of the planning board were much quicker to hail to subcommittee’s proposal as a win-win for the both public and the mobile housing industry.

“Our goal was to try to provide some balance between being business friendly while providing protection for adjacent properties.”
– Planning board member Lee Isley

“It will protect the homeowners, the schools, and the churches,” board member Bill Poe declared before the group’s unanimous vote to endorse the whole raft of proposed changes. “It’s not that mobile home parks are bad necessarily, but that’s some the perception from the community around them.”

“Our goal was to try to provide some balance between being business friendly,” added Lee Isley, who had also served on the subcommittee, “while providing protection for adjacent properties.”

Although Morgan was on hand when the planning board convened its meeting on December 9, he and other audience members had no opportunity to weigh in after the subcommittee pitched its proposal to the rest of the group. Yet, the reluctantly passive observer admits that he has no shortage of comments about the prospective new rules which the planning board went on to recommend to the county’s board of commissioners.

Morgan told The Alamance News that he was initially optimistic about the proposed regulations in light of a foray he has recently made into the management of RV parks.

Although mobile homes still comprise the lion’s share of his business, Morgan has converted one of his properties at 2246 Farrell Road in Mebane into a RV-oriented development. He had hoped to expand the capacity of this RV park under a set of new, more compatible rules, and he has even sent the county a plan that proposes to eke out an additional 17 lots on the park’s site.

Morgan insists that he’s perfectly comfortable with many of the provisions that the planning board has recommended to the board of commissioners. He picks no quarrel, for instance, with the board’s permit renewal proposal or with the quality standards that he believes will reward responsible landlords for the diligent care of their tenants.

Yet, Morgan isn’t nearly as amenable to the land spacing mandates, which he says are less about ensuring quality than about discouraging a form of housing that appeals most to people of limited means. Morgan argued that the proposed zones of inhibition effectively treat mobile homes and RVs as pubic nuisances that need to be sealed off from the rest of the community.

“They’re labeling all the old parks as ‘legal nonconforming [uses],’ and that’s some dangerous wording to use in our opinion.”– RV and Mobile Home park owner Philip Morgan

Morgan went on to argue that these land-spacing provisions will be particularly harmful to mobile home parks, which won’t benefit from the lot size reductions that RV-oriented developments would get as a trade off for the new land-use restrictions. He insists that the proposed separations could even pose problems for existing developments, which will be allowed to operate under the old rules – albeit with a somewhat ominous distinction.

“They’re labeling all the old parks as “legal nonconforming [uses],” he went on to explain, “and that’s some dangerous wording to use in our opinion.”

Caddle, for one, isn’t terribly distressed about the proposal’s potential impact on the long-term viability of mobile home parks in the rural reaches of Alamance County.

“They’re [referring to mobile home parks] a dying breed. We haven’t had a mobile home park application since the [current] ordinance was approved [in 2016].”– planning director tonya caddle

“They’re a dying breed,” she told The Alamance News in an interview. “We haven’t had a mobile home park application since the [current] ordinance was approved [in 2016].”

It is on this score, however, that Morgan is especially eager to show just how much vim there still is in the mobile home market within Alamance County.

“We have a 95 percent occupancy rate on all of our properties,” he declared. “I’ve got people that are offering me $10 million for one of my parks. So, it’s not a dying breed.”

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