75% of Fort Collins mobile home sites moving to new preservation-minded zoning category

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Six manufactured housing parks in Fort Collins are moving into a new zoning designation that City Council created with a hope of protecting the communities from redevelopment.

The parks include Harmony Village, Hickory Village, Pleasant Grove, Northstar, Skyline and Cottonwood. They represent six of the 10 manufactured housing/mobile home parks in city limits and include about 1,040 households, or about 75% of all mobile home sites in the city.

The zoning change for the six parks, from the low-density mixed use neighborhood (LMN) category to the new manufactured housing category, is part of a city effort to prevent manufactured home parks from being sold and redeveloped. Two parks, Northstar and Skyline, will retain LMN zoning on small portions of their properties to accommodate existing structures.

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Fort Collins’ growth management area includes 14 more manufactured housing parks, which could be moved to the new zoning category once the city annexes those areas.

The manufactured housing zoning category allows for manufactured housing, neighborhood parks, and little else. It’s a much narrower classification than LMN, which allows for single- and potentially multi-family homes as well as some businesses. Anyone who wants to redevelop a manufactured home park in the new designated zoning category would have to go through a city review process and get council approval to rezone the land.

City Council members characterized the rezonings as a key move toward preserving a more attainably priced form of housing in a city with ever-increasing cost-of-living, but they said their work to preserve and enhance manufactured housing isn’t done.

Mobile homes stand along a street in the Harmony Village mobile home park in Fort Collins, Colo. on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Fort Collins City Council rezoned the park in a new zoning district targeted for mobile home park preservation and discouraging redevelopment. Over the past 23 years, the Fort Collins area has lost five mobile home parks.

“I’m not under any illusions that this solves every problem with manufactured housing, but I think it is an important step in preserving the existing stock so we’re not going backwards in our affordable housing inventory,” council member Ross Cunniff said.

Council has taken a special interest in addressing issues with manufactured housing parks over the last two years, driven in part by leadership from council member Emily Gorgol and increased engagement from park residents involved in La Familia’s Mi Voz program, which encourages self-advocacy among Fort Collins mobile home residents.

Gorgol has compared the manufactured housing experience to living “half the American dream,” because residents often own their homes but don’t own the ground under them, leaving them vulnerable to continuous rent increases, unfair utility billing practices and the threat of displacement. Residents of older manufactured homes are sometimes unable to move because their homes are too old or dilapidated to meet entry requirements for other parks. Rent increases and displacement also represent a considerable financial hurdle for many manufactured home residents, who are disproportionately Spanish-speaking, lower-income and retirement-aged compared with the general Fort Collins population.

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Fort Collins’ manufactured home parks run the gamut in terms of quality and upkeep, with many residents enjoying relatively high standards of living and others dealing with potential health and safety hazards like lead pipes, poorly maintained trees and water drainage issues. The city passed several measures this fall meant to address some of residents’ most pressing livability concerns, but council members said there’s more work to do.

Residents of Hickory Village and Harmony Village parks spoke to City Council via Spanish-language interpreter in support of the zoning changes. They said they feel safe in their tight-knit communities, which have grown closer during the COVID-19 outbreak, and they want to stay there.

Mobile homes stand inside the Harmony Village mobile home park in Fort Collins, Colo. on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Fort Collins City Council rezoned the park in a new zoning district targeted for mobile home park preservation and discouraging redevelopment. Over the past 23 years, the Fort Collins area has lost five mobile home parks.

“Most of us have purchased our mobile homes with a lot of sacrifice, and it is the only heritage we have for our families,” one resident of Harmony Village said. “Unfortunately, many of us who live here do not have access to housing outside of a mobile home park. Otherwise, of course we would be living in a house with much more comfort and lot more space. But nonetheless, this is what we have, and we would like it to be preserved.”

The owner of Northstar Mobile Home Park and manager of Skyline Mobile Home Park said they have concerns about the new zoning designation because it could hamstring park owners who want to sell or modify their properties in the future.

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“I purchased this property three and a half years ago based on the zoning of the park and the business that sits on it,” said Peter Goldstein, one of the owners of Northstar. “You guys deciding what the ultimate use of that land is, eventually that’s going to hurt me and my partners. We purchased that park for X amount of dollars. We have bank loans. As you decide what can and cannot be done, I don’t have a choice at this point. If you’re trying to build business in the city of Fort Collins, I think you just have to be super respectful of the investments that are made.”

A sign announces a development proposal at the entrance to Harmony Village mobile home park in Fort Collins, Colo. on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Fort Collins City Council rezoned the park in a new zoning district targeted for mobile home park preservation. Over the past 23 years, the Fort Collins area has lost five mobile home parks.

Goldstein said he has no plans to sell his park, but he worries about having such limited options if operating costs for the park increase significantly in the next 10 to 15 years as the housing market and housing stock change. Lisa Felix, a representative of Sun Communities who manages Skyline, pointed out that recently adopted state law gives park residents the first chance to buy their parks if they go up for sale. But she said the new zoning classification restricts the number of potential buyers for park owners whose tenants don’t have the means or the interest to buy the parks.

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“It clearly is not beneficial to a community owner, and I think it discourages growth in this space,” Felix said.

Fort Collins has lost five parks to redevelopment in the last 23 years, resulting in 461 families being displaced. The city hasn’t lost a park since 2012, but city staff told council last year that several manufactured housing parks were vulnerable to redevelopment because of their zoning classifications and locations.

Council member Ken Summers said he regrets that council’s actions might have created distress among mobile home residents who believe they’re at imminent risk of losing their homes if council doesn’t act quickly, or that the rezoning is a fail-safe strategy.

“What we’re doing is no guarantee, and if we’ve been giving them that impression, we’re not doing them a service,” he said. “But we want these people to know we’re committed to keeping these areas affordable and healthy and vibrant, and we appreciate the efforts of all those who live there to help us accomplish that.”

Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.