The ordinance in effect at the time had last been updated in 1958, before mobile homes were in such widespread use that regulation became necessary.
Several years of planning went into the 127-page ordinance that was adopted by the council in April 2008 and then caused international controversy three years later when tornado survivors realized that it outlawed FEMA trailers.
Now a new mayor and council are taking a look at the zoning ordinance. Not only have there been charges that it is unfair, but city leaders have also discovered that it is vague in some parts and practically unenforceable.
Council members were told during a work session held Thursday night that a property owner on McCrory Street recently violated several city ordinances by setting up a camper trailer too close to the road without receiving the proper permits for plumbing and electrical hook-up.
Zoning, however, was not mentioned in the paperwork that he was served by the city.
“We didn’t even enforce the fact that it was a mobile home because based on this (ordinance), we could not define it as such,” Mayor Drew Gilbert said. “That’s one of the problems that we are running into because a structure like that is exactly what this was attempting to address.”
City attorney Ken Guin told council members that the camper did not fit the definition of a mobile home, a manufactured home or a recreational vehicle, all of which are listed in Article II of the ordinance.
Mobile homes were manufactured prior to 1976 and are not allowed in the city limits under any circumstances.
Guin said the key definition for council members to study is that of manufactured homes, which according to the 2008 ordinance are only allowed with special permission from the Planning Commission in a special district called PUD.
In December 2009, the previous mayor and council passed an amendment that established four “designated areas” in the city where multi-sectioned manufactured homes are allowed. Single-wide trailers, however, are still forbidden.
Guin urged the council members to study the definitions in the ordinance and recommend changes where they feel the language is unclear or currently allows a loophole.
“What would you say if somebody came in with an RV, permanently hooked it up to sewage and was going to live in it? I don’t think that’s really what you intend with your zoning ordinance, but yet it doesn’t say you can’t do it,” Guin said.
Guin said enforcement is also a problem with the ordinance.
The city’s building inspector is listed as the enforcing officer, and the ordinance establishes a penalty of a minimum $100 fine for each day the violation continues.
However, Guin said the section is vague enough that it would have been difficult to know how to make the property owner on McCrory Street comply with the zoning law even if city leaders had wanted to.
“I’ll look and see what other cities do and see if we can’t come up with something that is a little more self-explanatory so we’re not reinventing the wheel every time a case comes up,” Guin said.
The council is expected to take up the zoning issue at its Jan. 22 meeting.
Among the changes being considered by the council based on Thursday night’s discussion are expanding the designated areas while still protecting the appearance and property values in areas such as the downtown business district.
Any revisions are also expected to include strict guidelines regarding the condition a manufactured home must be in before it is allowed in the city.
Gilbert referred to the issue as “delicate” several times throughout the work session.
He said his hope is that the council can develop a compromise that protects the rights of all property owners.
“We were elected to help build the new Cordova, but you can’t turn your back on current Cordova to build the new one,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert also stressed the importance of zoning to the city’s future development and noted that the revisions under consideration by the council are not intended to gut the ordinance but rather to strengthen it.
Guin praised the document as well and commended the city for being one of only two local municipalities to having a zoning ordinance in place.
“You’ve got a good thing. A little tweaking will just make it better,” he said.