Tide turning on manufactured homes?

Published on Thu, Apr 19, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Tide turning on manufactured homes?

By Meg Olson

Public testimony on proposed manufactured homes regulations wrapped up on a different note than when the hearing began. The planning commission public hearing opened on March 22 to solid support for allowing manufactured homes in residential neighborhoods but closed April 12 to testimony that they didn’t belong in neighborhoods made up of mostly site-built houses.

“Sprinkling manufactured homes in various Blaine neighborhoods is not a good idea,” said James Rankin, who was joined by several other residents and businesses in opposing manufactured homes on single-family lots throughout the city. “We aren’t against manufactured homes; they have their place,” said local builder Scott Meaker. “We just don’t think that place is as infill in a beautiful city like Blaine.”

Blaine planning commissioners are considering a trio of proposals covering a spectrum of possibilities for siting manufactured homes. The first would allow the creation of manufactured home subdivisions in the planned residential zone east of Lincoln Park and north of H Street, which would need to meet city criteria for a subdivision and in which homeowners would own the lots. The second possibility is a zoning overlay that would allow higher density parks west of Harvey Road and along Peace Portal Drive between the freeway and Drayton Harbor. The park owner would lease lots to manufactured home owners. Finally, the planning commission is considering allowing manufactured homes on all residential lots if they meet “acceptable similarity” standards when their value, quality and aesthetics are compared with neighboring structures.

While at the earlier hearing members of the manufactured housing industry said the homes they sold provided as high quality a living space as a site-built home, Meaker disagreed. “There are some valid reasons why manufactured homes have a bit of a reputation,” he said.

Meaker, his partner Kevin Coggan and brother Daniel Meaker, also a home builder, submitted a series of photos to the commission illustrating what they see as problems with manufactured homes. At the top of their list were foundations. Manufactured homes are supported on a system of jack and a concrete pad. What looks like a foundation is concrete block skirting that plays no structural role. “This is probably one of the big reasons very few people attempt to enlarge or seriously remodel a manufactured home,” they wrote in their brief to commissioners, claiming this limits the ability of a neighborhood to increase in value through time due to home improvements.

Because manufactured homes experience twisting and bending in transport, Meaker said they are often made with materials that can withstand the stress - materials commonly found in travel trailers. Those built with standard home-building materials often need repairs when they arrive at the site, which in many cases aren’t made. He presented a series of photos of rolling floors, uneven counters, and low-grade building materials in a manufactured home he recently installed. “Many consumers don’t initially recognize all the quality differences between manufactured homes and stick-built homes because manufactured homes are displayed very nicely on the lots,” he wrote. “Over time they realize the difference.”

Meaker also said limitations on manufactured home siting were already in place in other Whatcom County communities. “If Blaine deviates from this precedent the manufactured home dealers in the area will take advantage of Blaine’s low priced lots and do a tremendous amount of infill in the city. The result will be that Blaine’s city neighborhoods will, in the long run, be of lower quality than other incorporated areas in the county,” he said.

The cities of Bellingham, Ferndale, Everson and Lynden limit manufactured homes that do not meet Uniform Building Code standards or have permanent foundations to manufactured/mobile home parks or subdivisions. Most manufactured homes meet federal Housing and Urban Development standards but not the state building code. “The community felt that locating manufactured homes could have a detrimental impact on their home values, the esthetics, character and quality of their neighborhoods,” said Lynden planner Amy Harksell. In Sumas, manufactured homes are only allowed in low-density residential areas, with only one unit allowed per 1.5 acres, said city superintendent Rod McFadden. “People felt it decreased the value of existing neighborhoods,” he said.

In unincorporated areas of Whatcom County and the city of Nooksack, manufactured homes are allowed in all residential areas and subject to the same placement standards as site-built homes. “So far it’s worked out,” said Nooksack public works director Dale Cline.

Representing the Washington Manufactured Housing Association, Bob Schoos urged city planners to find a place for manufactured housing in Blaine. “There is a balance between giving people a choice in housing and maintaining the value and continuity of your neighborhoods,” he said. Schoos cautioned that manufactured homes meet federal housing standards, and so cannot be excluded or restricted for safety or construction reasons - only as part of the city’s effort to control land use. “The way this is drafted you’ll find you can give choice to your constituents and protect the value of your neighborhoods,” he said, encouraging commissioners to approve all three proposals.

Rankin said the standard of “acceptable similarity” would not provide consistency if manufactured houses were allowed as infill. “It would be difficult to define what is comparable to site-built neighboring houses,” he said. Rankin also suggested manufactured home parks not be allowed in the southern proposed area along Peace Portal Drive. “This is the place people will get their first impression of our city and we want that to be favorable,” he said.

“There seems to be a general agreement among land-use committee members about the first two proposals but a great deal of disagreement on infill in residential areas,” said land-use committee chairman Ken Trupp at the close of the public hearing. The committee met again to discuss the proposals this week and will present their recommendation to the full planning commission April 26.

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