Members of the Pilot Mountain Board of Commissioners said on Thursday they would like to see a reduction in the number of residential categories in the town’s zoning ordinance — but there was some question on how that reduction should affect mobile homes.
That emerged during a meeting with own zoning administrator Andy Goodall, who was also representing the team from Benchmark CMR. That group was contracted in August to begin a year-long process to review the existing zoning regulations, propose changes and present an updated zoning ordinance to the board, probably in early fall of next year, according to town manager Michael Boaz.
The plan proposed by Goodall would reduce the number of residential zoning categories from nine to four. The current R-15 and R-20 districts would become one low density category, RL. The current R-8 and R-12 areas would be consolidated into RM, the medium-density category. The current R-M, R-MH and R-85 would become one high-density category, RH. The category for Residential Agricultural, RA, would remain the same.
Goodall suggested to the board that the new categories should assume the least strict regulations of the categories being combined, in order to minimize the number of non-conforming uses grandfathered into the new plan from the old system.
He brought up bed and breakfasts, which are now only allowed as a conditioned use in the RA and R-20 areas. Allowing bed and breakfasts in the new RL (low-density) designation would allow them in the R-15 areas where they are currently not allowed, and possibly allowing them in RM (medium-density) area, bringing them into current R-12 and R-8 areas. Goodall pointed out that the medium density areas are not that different from low density areas.
Goodall expressed the opinion that bed and breakfasts are not invasive businesses, requiring only some extra parking, and that the board should decide if they want to expand the areas where they are allowed, and if they should be a permitted use or a conditional use. As a permitted use, a property owner would only need to get a permit to open a bed and breakfast. As a conditional use, the use of a property as a bed and breakfast would be hashed out at a hearing on a case-by-case basis.
A discussion regarding the differences of bed and breakfasts, mini-hotels, short-term stay units, AirBnB, and whether it was necessary for a bed and breakfast to serve breakfast to be considered a bed and breakfast then ensued. Goodall said that zoning codes differ from tax codes on the subject, a bed and breakfast for zoning purposes can have a maximum of five or six rentable rooms, a parking space for each, a handicapped parking space, and breakfast is not mandatory.
Commissioner Evan Cockerham asked, “So, we’re not really eliminating any uses? We’re adding uses, not taking them away?”
Goodall said that was true with one exception. That exception, mobile homes, proved to be the only issue on which the board could reach a consensus.
First, a few definitions were established. Modular homes are treated the same way as site-built homes for zoning purposes. They are built to the same code as stick-built homes, Goodall said, and can go anywhere single-family houses are allowed.
The designation of “manufactured home” in the existing code refers to mobile homes, either single-wide or double-wide. Goodall said the board members could differentiate between the two in the new plan, if they so choose.
Of the existing high-density areas, R-85, R-M and R-MH, mobile homes are a permitted use with conditions in R-MH, but not the other two areas. When the three zoning designations are merged, a decision must be made on the fate of mobile homes in the new consolidated area.
Goodall told the commissioners they have several ways to go. An overlay district could be created, expressly for the purpose of mobile homes. Therefore, the RH district could have mobile homes in some parts and not others.
They could disallow mobile homes in RH, with existing ones grandfathered in, and rules adopted for replacing them. Those rules could be as strict as once an existing mobile home is gone, it can’t be replaced, to a more lenient rule that an existing mobile home can be immediately replaced, all the way to allowing a mobile home to be replaced any time up to 180 days after the existing home is removed.
The board had a range of thoughts on the subject.
“I’m not against a person’s style of living,” said commissioner Linda Needham, “but I don’t want a trailer next to my house.” Needham expressed her primary concerns as trailer tongues, underpinning, and tires and wheels. Goodall stated those were usual conditions placed in codes.
Mayor Dwight Atkins said, “People are worried about property values.”
“As someone who grew up in a single-wide, I have compassion for people who live in them,” said Evan Cockerham. He favored giving a full 180 days to replace mobile homes, since in cases of fire, it may take some time to collect insurance and purchase a new home.
Town manager Boaz stated the day after the meeting that he had seen no consensus from the board and that the issue would have to be worked out in future meetings.