Hope not lost | SteamboatToday.com

Hope not lost

Mobile-home bills fail at state Legislature; hopes high for bill to return next session

Christine Metz

Bobbi Hodge has become a familiar face at Steamboat Springs City Council meetings, lobbying for the rights of mobile-home owners.

On Feb. 16, Hodge, a Dream Island Mobile Home Community resident, took her pleas to a slightly higher governing body: the Colorado Legislature.

Hodge was among a group of 20 mobile-home owners that testified before the House’s Local Government Committee to promote a bill that would give mobile-home owners the right of first refusal if the owner of their park decides to sell the land.

The bill died on the House floor Tuesday, but Hodge hopes it will resurface during the next legislative session.

“We are going to keep working with this,” she said.

House Bill 1106 was an effort to increase the rights of mobile-home owners. It would have allowed mobile-home owners to form a homeowners association, given them the right of first refusal and laid out the procedures a landlord should follow if the homeowners want to purchase the land.

Senate Bill 89 also proposed the right of first refusal for mobile-home owners as part of an affordable-housing bill.

The two bills and another House bill were proposed in the 2004 session, but all were short-lived.

Hodge was not the only one following the bills’ progress through the state Legislature; Steamboat Springs City Manager Paul Hughes was keeping a close eye on them, too. Hughes said the bills should be of high interest for municipalities, giving them direction on what mobile-home-park owners can and cannot do when they come to local governments requesting to change the use of their land.

“I was hopeful that the Legislature would come up with a bill that would strengthen the rights of mobile-home owners and require (that homeowners) get the right of first refusal,” Hughes said.

The issue is not going to go away, Hughes said. Across the state, land that was once considered desirable such as Steamboat’s land by the river and railroad tracks — where mobile-home parks exist — has become more attractive as development pressures increase.

“Suddenly, it is very attractive and much more desirable and (there is) pressure for the (developer) to do something different, to develop the land for a bigger use and more money,” Hughes said.

In the past couple of months, Hodge has frequented council meetings, asking the city to enact an ordinance giving mobile-home owners the right of first refusal. The ordinance would come in handy, Hodge said, if the Dream Island residents organized and offered to buy their park from the out-of-town company that owns it.

At the House committee hearing, Hodge spoke of the peril mobile-home parks are facing in Steamboat.

“We need protection,” Hodge said. “We are the heart and soul of Steamboat. We are the ones that make Steamboat what it is.”

The plight of mobile-home owners resurfaced recently with Westland Trailer Park. Close to 100 residents are protesting River Walk, a proposed commercial and residential development project that would force the mobile-home owners off the property.

The homeowners said there are few mobile-home vacancies left in Steamboat or even in Routt County, and even if there were more, most of their trailers are too old to move.

Having mobile-home owners owning the land beneath the homes would keep workers in Steamboat, Hodge said.

“I think it is so important to keep the workers in town, otherwise we end up with something like Aspen, Telluride or Vail where all the workers are shipped in,” Hodge said. “Steamboat is unique, and we want to keep it that way.”

Although Hodge will have to wait a year for another chance at passing a state law, potential for more local protection was shown at a Thursday night joint planning commission meeting.

The Routt County Regional Planning Commission proposed adding language to the Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan Update that would give more protection to mobile-home owners.

County Planning Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said the plan should include language discouraging the conversion of mobile homes into commercial property unless the developer can either relocate the homeowners to another park within Steamboat or make 40 percent of the project affordable housing, with “affordable” being determined by the median income of the affected mobile-home owners.

City Planning Commission members said they liked the proposal and would recommend it as an ordinance but thought it was too specific for the area plan.

Both groups supported strengthening the language in the plan to give more protection to mobile-home owners.

The city does have an ordinance in place addressing conversion of mobile-home parks, but many think the law lacks the teeth to protect residents.

The council passed an ordinance requiring owners of mobile-home parks to present a conversion impact report to the city if they intend to redevelop the land. The owners also need to get a conditional-use permit to alter the use from a mobile-home park, which requires the city’s permission.

At the time it put the ordinance in place, the council decided not to require park owners to find or pay for new land for the displaced residents. Instead, the ordinance asks developers to make their “best efforts” when mobile-home owners are being displaced. Developers are asked to give mobile-home owners a list of the available sites within a 50-mile radius.

Homeowners at Westland Trailer Park thought the ordinance did little to protect them and said they wished the city could require relocation packages or compensation for trailers that cannot be moved off their lots.

— To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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