Public Hearings Will Likely Follow To Gauge Input On Possible Land Use Ordinance
By David Howell
COFFEEVILLE – Yalobusha supervisors identified preliminary steps in response to a proposed trailer park expansion in Water Valley during a recessed meeting held Monday that included input from almost a dozen people voicing opposition to the project.
Over 60 people attended the meeting after news spread last week of the development that could encompass almost 30 acres –roughly four acres inside the city limits of Water Valley and almost 26 acres in the county behind Larson’s shopping center that extends from the existing trailer park on Gore Street south to O’Tuckolofa Creek. The property was purchased last year by four Oxford men, Hayden Alexander, Turner Barnes, Andrew Ross and Josh Matthews. Three of the men attended Monday’s meeting, but did not speak.
Following comments from the public, as well as talk around the board table, supervisors discussed the possible implementation of a land use ordinance in the county as an option to address development in the county.
“We need to have an open discussion with the general population to see how far we want to take it, how deep we want to go and how strong we want it to be. That is the only democratic way I know to address it,” Board President Cayce Washington stated about zoning during the meeting held in the upstairs courtroom at the Coffeeville courthouse.
“I don’t think it is fair for one of us to come in and say we are going to do this and start banging our fist. We represent the entire county and we want to hear their input,” Washington added.
“The biggest thing is, if you are going to do something that is going to affect right around the City of Water Valley, the same thing is going to affect the back side of Oakland. It’s the whole county,” District 3 Supervisor Lee McMinn said.
A second step discussed Monday was legal input from Board Attorney John Crow to determine the county’s options, both for the current project and future development.
“You are not telling these people not to use it as a mobile home park at this point,” Crow explained, adding that instead the county’s oversight may be more about regulating the development. The attorney likened the issue to the beer ordinance, explaining the county population voted it in, but the county had the statutory authority to regulate the possession and sale of beer.
“In this case, you have the statutory authority to say minimum height, density, spacing, things like that. But you better have a basis for saying all of this because they will test you,” Crow explained. “We are talking about minimum restrictions, you better have a comprehensive plan, you just can’t throw out something. You better have some planning behind it,” Crow advised supervisors Monday.
“We got our work cut out for us, I think the only approach we can take is to let John (Crow) continue to research and see what we can and can’t do,” Washington said.
“Before you start restricting use, you need somebody to have a study on it – such as a planner,” Crow added.
McMinn reminded supervisors that Slaughter and Associates, an Oxford based urban planning firm, offered to provide a comprehensive plan for the county, including land use regulations, for a minimum cost of $25,000. The proposal was tabled last July, but resurfaced Monday as a third preliminary step when Crow agreed to contact the company to discuss the county’s situation.
Monday’s Public Input
While Monday’s meeting was not an official public hearing on the matter, Washington opened the meeting explaining that anyone present could address the board on the matter. He also set the tone for the meeting, requesting a civil conversation on the topic and asking anyone desiring to speak to sign up at the start of the meeting.
“We will give you an opportunity to share your concerns,” Washington said, adding supervisors would also provide input.
“But I will share with you right now, we have a lot more questions than answers at this point,” Washington added.
Bill Warren was the first member of the public to address the board. He explained he was a nine-year resident of Water Valley.
“Pertaining to the proposal, I think the concept is very ill-considered by the developers. My main concern is the density level… it will be a detriment to the social fabric of our town,” Warren added.
His comments brought about the actual number of trailers the development would include. In last week’s Herald, the four Oxford investors did not speculate on the number of trailers the development would include at maximum capacity.
“There are many conversations that need to be had with city leaders and county leaders about the planning process, as well as what we need to do to fulfill our goals,” the group reported in an email sent to the Herald.
“Density level, that is a valid concern,” Washington said in response to Warren’s comments. But Washington noted there is no definitive number on the number of mobile homes the development will include even though speculation in town was over 100.
“Speaking with these gentlemen, they aspire to put what they can on there. But in conversations, they understand there are some limitations. On the Water Valley side, I think it is six per acre,” Washington said about the portion of the development inside the city limits that would be regulated by the current city ordinance.
“If we develop our own (regulations) on the county side, are we going to get more aggressive?” Washington added about zoning in the county. “If we adopt something, it addresses the entire county.”
Washington also briefly addressed the social concerns voiced by Warren for the mobile home park.
“The image of the trailer park is not positive… But I think sometimes we jump to conclusions. Part of that gets back to management,” Washington said, adding that Monday’s conversation could help the investors understand what the community desires.
“Just for the record, I am a trailer park kid… I had a place to live when we could have lived in a van. So it serves a purpose, but what we don’t want to do is let that become a crime-infested area, with a situation where we have kids that inundate our schools that become problematic. But we have bad kids that come from good homes. We can’t stereotype a child because of their economic situation. I lived on food stamps for the better part of my youth, I don’t think I turned out to bad,” Washington added.
“I am just trying to play the devil’s advocate. If it is going to come, we need to work closely with these guys and help mold and shape what we desire,” he said.
Washington also address a third concerned shared by Warren about the risk for occupants in a mobile home during a tornado, a concern that surfaced multiple times Monday.
“We know the odds are higher that you are going to be killed in a mobile home during a tornado than in a house. But yet you can still get killed in a house,” Washington said.
Washington next addressed a fourth concern shared by Warren, jurisdiction issues because the property is located in the city and county.
“In order to add more trailers, they are going to have to put them in the city. So the city is going to have to address it before we do. I’m not passing the buck and telling you to show up at the next city meeting. But I am telling you for them to grow, they have to go through the city first, and that’s going to give us an opportunity to get our ducks in a row,” Washington said.
Pati d’Amico was next to speak, again questioning the density, the potential burden on the school and crime.
“It is the same concern that the Board of Supervisors has, and the community,” Washington said.
Anne Babb, a resident of Blount Street since 1948, was next to address the issue.
She reported the neighborhood has always been quiet.
“But most of our problems come from the trailer park,” she said about the existing Morris Trailer Park, which was purchased by the group as part of the property included in the proposed expansion.
“I can’t imagine that quadrupled,” Babb told the group. She also explained that the traffic coming and going from the trailer park passes right by her front door.
“What is ingress and egress going to be like,” she said about the increased traffic.
She also expressed concern about property values in her neighborhood, a sentiment she said was shared by her neighbors.
“We have got some people investing heavily in refurbishing houses,” Babb added, noting that one renovation has already been postponed because of the trailer park.
“Our sewer system is already overtaxes in that area, how are they going to handle that?” she asked.
“Again the county is not in the utility business, so I can’t answer that question,” Washington answered about the sewage. As far as property values, Washington reiterated that the county does not have land use ordinances on the books to regulate property, which could help protect property values.
“That is why we need to have open public meetings to discuss ordinances in the county,” he added.
“One other thing,” Babb added. “That swamp is where all the kids in our neighborhood were raised in, we played in. The Environmental Protection Agency should know there is a brown spotted salamander that I think is about to be extinct,” Babb joked
Washington did note there could be an environmental concern from the TCE spill at the Holley Carburetor that has drifted in the ground water and soil north, even crossing O’Tuckolofa Creek in at least one area.
Lisa Byars was next to speak, telling the group most of her concerns have already been mentioned.
“I guess I will just pose a question, is the board going to be looking at implementing some ordinances?” Byars asked.
“Yes,” multiple supervisors answered.
“Certainly we are going to investigate some of the surrounding counties and see what they have on the books to try to come up with some type of a minimum standard subdivision requirement or development requirement so at least we won’t get caught off guard in the future,” McMinn also said.
“I really don’t know, we still are undecided on what we can do in this current situation. I think it first starts with the city, the city is going to be the main entrance coming into it. That is where their water, sewage and electricity would come from,” McMinn added.
Lucia Holloway was next to speak, asking about the county’s obligation for providing roads in the mobile home park.
Washington answered, as the property is in his district, explaining that in order for him to adopt roads in the development, first they would have to be constructed in accordance with state aid road specifications at the expense of the developers.
“That is going to be pretty rigorous,” Washington added. He also said the drainage design for the property would require approval by the county’s engineer and possibly the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
Diane Stone was next to speak, explaining that the current mobile home park had already generated problems. She also explained that her daughter and son-in-law had postponed a substantial renovation on a historic house in the neighborhood because of the threat to property values.
Water Valley Main Street Manager Mickey Howley spoke next, explaining he had been involved in a number of issues in the community since he moved to the community 15 years ago. Citing the beer ordinance and later the threat of a Wal-Mart Express coming to town, Howley said this issue is different as almost all of the residents in the community are against the expansion. “High density really is the issue here,” Howley said, using a map to illustrate his point. He also said that many communities have implemented zoning to limit this type of development.
“I feel, having watched this board for a number of years, and city council as well, which Crow law firm represents, that you guys have, at your disposal, a very strong advocate for this town. Mr. Crow can be extremely aggressive when he wants to and I admire him for that. Having been on the other side, especially on the beer issue, I remember wishing he was on our side,” Howley said about Board Attorney John Crow.
Next Howley cited case law that he said gives the county authority to put a temporary moratorium on mobile homes to allow more time for comprehensive planning. Howley’s final suggestion was implementing tiers of zoning that would be less restrictive in more rural areas of the county.
Next to speak was Erik Fearing, who said he had worked in Water Valley for the last eight years and moved to the community 18 months ago.
“We invested in this community and anytime people makes an investment it takes courage,” Fearing said, adding that he also had appreciation for the Oxford investors.
“I don’t know if these guys are going to be able to fly with this trailer park, some things I read indicate it is a risky thing, especially putting new trailers in,” Fearing added, referring to the comments from the investors about purchasing new mobile homes for the development.
Fearing then questioned the dual jurisdiction the property is located in, explaining that the property straddles city and county property. Then he pointed to need for long range planning.
“It’s a new day in Water Valley. Your community is different than it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago. It is time for us to be aggressive. It is time for us to think about these issues and forecast what is going to happen. I don’t think Oxford has done that very well, they are trying to,” Fearing added.
Joy Person was next to talk, stressing the need for ordinances in the county. She also suggested that some of the units would need to be handicap accessible. She also noted that the development does not have to start on city property as previously stated, instead noting that the guys could start on the portion of the property in the county.
“County supervisors do have a right to pass regulations and ordinances at any meeting. If this group has not given us a starting time or finishing time, then the county can proceed with ordinances,” Person continued. Her final suggestion was to implement a building permit system in the county, similar to Water Valley. Her final comment was for the county to require street lights, paved parking and adequate road access.
Sheriff Lance Humphreys was next to address the issue, initially explaining that he was speaking as a citizen.
“I live on Blount Street and my property value in two years have increased $20,000. I have been in law enforcement for 23 years. Trailer parks always start out good,” the sheriff said. “But they go down.”
As a 10-year resident of Blount Street, he said the existing trailer park is already the source for frequent police and ambulance calls. He also said the foot traffic is a problem.
“What’s there now is not good, I can tell you. It is in the city and I try to help the city as much as I can. But I have enough to do out in the county,” Humphreys explained about the calls his deputies answer.
“That is what you get when you have a trailer park that is not managed. If they are going to have a manager there, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and when the trailers start going down, replace them. It may be all right. But I have never seen it, we have one out in the county that is the same way,” Humphreys said.
He also cited the Water Valley Boat Landing area, a neighborhood that started out decades ago as a good place to live.
“My grandfather used to have the restaurant out there and it was nice. It started out as a good idea and good people, but now we are out there every day, answering calls.
Humphreys also backed up Babb’s earlier comments, explaining that the current trailer park with nine trailers already has “bumper-to-bumper” project.
“There is no way that Blount Street can handle the traffic,” he added.
Lauren Stokes was next to speak, and she opened by complimenting supervisors for allowing the forum on the subject.
“There has been a lot of talk about protecting the people who live here and give a voice to the developers,” Stokes said. “For me the easiest way to keep it from being muddled is to think of who lives in the county and who votes in the county,” Stokes said, noting that the developers do not meet that criteria.
As a final note, Stokes said development in Oxford had pushed her family to move to Water Valley.
“Remember, you are here to fight for the community… and you can say no,” Stokes added, referring to enacting restrictive ordinances.
Joe York was the next speaker, telling supervisors that he moved to Water Valley around two years ago.
York explained that he had invested in multiple properties,
“Rental property, you need to see it all the time. We just finished two apartments and I live a block away,” York said. He also said he had partners from Oxford and he had no problem with people investing in Water Valley.
“I also don’t think we should change the rules at half-time just because we are losing… We may have already lost this and I know that is a hard pill for a lot of people to follow… and it sucks,” York continued.
His parting comment was to encourage citizens to be a part of the process when public meetings are held on zoning.
“This group has to stay together, it is our community,” York said about the meeting attendees. “We get to decide what we want these guys to do,” York continued, pointing to the supervisors.
“That’s make sure we are getting together to be for something, and I think what we are for is the community that we all moved to,” York stressed.
Water Valley realtor Sherry Fischer was next to speak, citing the need for low income housing in the community, but the trailer park wasn’t the answer.
“ I think the opposition to the mobile home park needs to be addressed and I feel sure that the board is going to do everything they can,” Fischer said. “If this was a stick-built, Section 8, low income houses, I could see that. But this is something right in the middle of our town that has no tax base,” Fischer continued, also pointing to the cost of infrastructure that will affect the entire community.
“I am a realtor and I am very motivated on our property values. And I think everybody in here has that on our minds,” she added, before encouraging the group to stick together.
Barry Caulfield was next to speak, noting that he had rental property and management is key.
“On a project of this size, there is not really a way to be personally involved in the lives of everybody you rent to,” he explained. He also said that good property management sometimes involves hands-on help with renters, something you can do on a small scale.
The final comments came from letters presented to the board. The first letter was from Pierce Epes, who voiced opposition to the development. In his letter, Epes said investment from people outside the community time, but this type of investment would be detrimental. Epes cited the increased costs of law enforcement and infrastructure, the adverse affect on the school system, and declining property values and rental rates in the community.
The second letter was from Gil and Jerri Ann Davis, also expressing concern on the proposed mobile home park. The couple explained they have purchased two homes in the community and the Lee home renovation has been completed. However the renovation on a second, the 1870s-era Simmons home has been suspended due to concern about declining property value.
Input At The City Level
After the meeting Cliff Lawson, speaking on behalf of the Water Valley Business Alliance, reported, “We appreciate the enthusiastic response to the WVBA’s call for a town meeting about this trailer park. We’ve asked to be on the agenda to discuss it on Tuesday, February 7, at 6:30 p.m. at the city board meeting. Everyone in Water Valley is invited and encouraged to attend. We hope the developers will be there as well.”