Incentive for mobile-home replacement in Old Town Bluffton hits snag

mmcnab@islandpacket.comMay 30, 2014 

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A plan to make it easier for Old Town residents to replace dilapidated mobile homes stalled this week over concerns about harming the appearance of the historic district.

The proposal presented Wednesday by town staff to the Planning Commission would have exempted replacement mobile homes in the historic district from the typical architectural review process. The proposal was a response to a question Town Council asked in March about factors that prevented mobile homes from being replaced.

The plan would have affected 59 mobile homes counted in the historic district during an informal survey, which is about 12 percent of all the homes in that area, town senior planner Erin Schumacher said.

Offering a shorter review path could encourage low-income residents to forgo costly repairs to aging mobile homes in favor of replacing them with new homes, Schumacher said.

However, the five commission members at Wednesday's meeting were concerned that a lack of review could hurt Old Town's aesthetic and historical value if the conditions of the homes and properties were not examined. They voted to table the request.

Commission chairman Thomas Viljac said a replacement mobile home could look worse than a current one, such as a metal trailer that could rust over time. He and the other commissioners asked how details like house color and landscaping would be addressed.

"There's zero aesthetic review in this," Viljac said. "It's a 180 degree turn from the aesthetic criteria in Old Town. ... Shouldn't (a mobile home) look like it flows with 80 percent of the other homes?"

Commissioner Harry Lutz was concerned there was no provision to require owners of replacement homes to connect to sewer lines where they are available.

In the proposed amendment, only four basic requirements would have to be met for a replacement home:

  • It must be occupied by the primary owner.
  • It could not exceed 105 percent of the floor area of the current home.
  • Necessary permits would have to be issued to remove the old home.
  • And the new home's placement would have to conform to lot standards in the historic district.

Basic mobile homes won't meet current design criteria like the prohibition of vinyl and aluminum siding, the percentage of window space facing the street, and general building proportion requirements, Schumacher said. Mobile homes that fit that criteria are likely too costly for most low-income residents.

The commission voted unanimously to table the amendment until it could determine how to add an aesthetic review of replacement mobile homes to the proposal. Town planners said they would address the aesthetic review questions and present a new proposal June 25 at the commission's next meeting.

The proposal is the latest in a push by Town Council to encourage residents to replace dilapidated mobile homes. Council will likely approve $100,000 for a program to help people replace old mobile homes with new modular ones when next fiscal year's budget is voted on June 10.

The town would offer residents and developers designs for 24 modular homes, which are prefabricated and typically assembled in sections. Residents could also use financial assistance the town would seek through grants to help pay for the homes' assembly.

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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