On a split vote, the Buncombe County commissioners decided last week to prohibit recreational vehicles in mobile-home parks.
That was the only controversial item at the board’s sparsely attended March 5 meeting.
The proposal had been unanimously recommended by the county’s Manufactured Home Park Review Board (which is dominated by mobile-home-park owners and developers). When the issue first came before the commissioners on Jan. 22, Roy Chapman (who chairs the review board) said, in part, that RVs should be banned because their construction is unregulated.
“Park model” RVs — which look like small manufactured homes — are becoming increasingly popular. But neither those nor other RVs have to be built to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards, nor is there any code dictating how they can be set up on site. And unlike mobile homes, RVs can’t be permanently hooked up to water, sewer or electricity, Chapman told the commissioners at their Jan. 22 meeting.
“If you allow them in the parks, it’s unregulated totally,” Chapman warned back in January.
Last week, County Attorney Joe Connolly said during the board’s administrative session that the N.C. Department of Insurance classifies RVs as temporary structures, meaning they can’t be set up with permanent plumbing or mechanical connections.
But Commissioner David Gantt described the RVs he looked at recently as “great.”
“They are great,” concurred Assistant County Manager/Planning Director Jon Creighton. The problem, Creighton said, is that the RVs don’t have to be inspected to any standard. The only thing the county can do, he explained later, is check an RV’s electrical connection.
After learning that members of the Review Board don’t have RVs in their own parks, however, Gantt went on to compare the group’s recommendation to the proverbial fox guarding the chicken house — though Creighton said he disagreed with that assessment.
Jupiter resident Don Yelton agreed with Gantt, adding that mobile-home-park owners are competing with one another. (Yelton also said he’s one of only two people in the county who own specially permitted mobile-home/RV parks, so the change would not directly affect his business.)
Commissioner David Young said he didn’t see Yelton’s point, and Yelton countered that some mobile-home-park owners are trying to tell others what they can do.
During a break in the meeting, Yelton complained that the proposed ban was stupid: “It’s ridiculous to say I can’t put a $30,000 vacation home in a mobile-home park.”
During the formal meeting, Gantt persisted in his dissent from the RV ban, arguing, “It’s a pretty big deal, and you’re gonna cut out a lot of housing opportunities for people.”
“They’re not built to be homes,” Young said later in the discussion.
Gantt then called for 15 minutes of public comment (a new option adopted last fall when the board changed its public-comment policy).
Karen Kiehna, executive director of the Affordable Housing Coalition, didn’t urge the board to vote a particular way on the issue, but she did note her concerns about ensuring safe housing for families. That’s an issue, she said, because RVs’ water-and-sewer connections are not compatible with the ones in mobile-home parks. (They can, however, be rigged up with adapters.) Other communities, said Kiehna, have ordinances governing how park-model RVs can be accommodated in mobile-home parks.
“We are not in favor of excluding any safe housing,” Kiehna said later.
Yelton reiterated his points, then declared that Young (who, meanwhile, reiterated his disagreement) shouldn’t vote on the matter because he owns a mobile-home park. Young, who does own an interest in a mobile-home park, said that simply means he’s better informed about the issues.
County resident Jerry Rice asked whether the commissioners had any statistics on the number of RVs in the county’s mobile-home parks and the potential impact of the change. Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Ramsey said he didn’t think so.
Swannanoa resident Eric Gorny noted that a friend of his (a mechanic’s helper) lives in an RV park “but it costs a lot of money.”
Questioned by Commissioner Patsy Keever, Gorny said that it’s cheaper to live in a mobile-home park.
“Is it just the greed of the RV-park owners we’re talking about?” asked Keever.
It could be, Gorny allowed, but he urged the commissioners to reject the proposal and instead require inspections of the adapters used to hook up RVs in mobile-home parks.
But Creighton countered, “What we’re talking about is a health-and-safety issue.”
A flurry of procedural motions followed, with Ramsey proposing an amendment to indefinitely allow existing RVs to remain in mobile-home parks. Vice Chairman Bill Stanley seconded the motion. But when it became clear that Ramsey wanted to grandfather RV spaces — not particular RVs — Stanley withdrew his second and they began again.
In the end, the board voted 4-1 (with Ramsey opposed) to approve an amendment grandfathering existing RVs in mobile-home parks. The amended proposal to ban new RVs from mobile-home parks was then adopted 4-1 (with Gantt opposed).
Young said later that he felt the issue was overblown, commenting, “This really got a lot bigger than it should have been.”
But Gantt disagreed with that view, adding after the meeting: “I think we basically snuffed out another form of affordable housing before we studied it.”
The pledge and more
Without comment, Ramsey had kicked off the meeting with a new procedure, asking everyone to stand and pledge their allegiance to the American flag. He said later that after Asheville Mayor Charles Worley had instituted the pledge at City Council meetings back in December, several citizens had asked him why the commissioners weren’t doing the same (see “Taking the pledge,” Dec. 26, 2001 Xpress).
“I think it’s a good thing. Certainly, we’re all Americans, and I think it’s appropriate … for a publicly elected body to do that,” Ramsey said. “We should have been doing it a long time ago, and it’s my fault that we didn’t.”
Another meeting highlight was a long report from Jon Creighton (at Young’s request) detailing the progress the county had made in carrying out recommendations of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. The incentives-based plan was adopted in March of 1999 after more than a year of work involving a citizen committee. That same month, however, several commissioners called for countywide zoning, prompting a closely watched, nonbinding referendum in November of that year. (Of the 33 percent of registered voters who actually cast ballots, about 56 percent turned thumbs down on the concept.)
At the county’s first growth-management meeting back in January, Gantt, Young and others had disagreed about whether the Land Use Plan’s recommendations had simply been collecting dust once the debate over countywide zoning erupted. Though some recommendations have been carried out, many still seem to be in the discussion phase, according to Creighton.
“I think we have made accomplishments … but there’s still work to do,” concluded Creighton.
“The Land Use Plan has not collected dust,” proclaimed Stanley.
The commissioners also gave themselves another extension (until June 3) to negotiate a contract with Charter Communications to provide cable-TV service in the unincorporated parts of the county.
A couple of proclamations jazzed up the start of the meeting, with commissioners proclaiming March as “Dave Marcis Month” in honor of the retiring NASCAR driver, who lives in Avery’s Creek. Stanley read a proclamation detailing Marcis’ accomplishments (including five Winston Cup victories) and shook the racer’s hand.
The board also recognized the members of the Merrimon Christian School’s girls’ basketball team, the reigning Western Carolina Middle School Conference champions.
In other action, commissioners appointed Ruth “Ande” Fulford and Mary Thompson to the Land-of-Sky Regional Council’s Advisory Council on Aging.
At meeting’s end, commissioners and staffers strolled back to Ramsey’s office, where they met in closed session for about 20 minutes to discuss two economic-development matters.
The next Board of Commissioners meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 19 in Room 204 of the Buncombe County Courthouse. The administrative session (with opportunity for public comment) starts at 3:30 p.m., followed by the formal session at 4:30 p.m.
The Buncombe County commissioners approved the following items by consent at their March 5 meeting:
• The minutes of their Feb. 19 regular meeting.
• A 90-day extension of the Charter cable-TV franchise.
• Fee adjustments for the Planning Department (second reading).
• A capital-projects ordinance transferring $39,123 from contingency to the general fund.
• A resolution authorizing a grant application for $170,072 in state funding for the Day Reporting Center.
• A resolution adopting records retention and disposition schedules for the county Child Care Services Department and the Bureau of Identification.
• A budget amendment appropriating $481,600 from emergency 911 wireless funds to the Land Records Department for an aerial photography project.