Problem involving combination of grandfathering, zoning, annexation, and private utilities

A park that I am considering has well water and wastewater treatment plant. City water and sewer connection point will be extended to a location near the park - two parcels away from the park. I looked into connecting to the city water and sewer, but ran into a hurdle.

The city water and sewer is operated by a different city, so the park needs to be annexed. Problem is that the city will not grant the park the current legal, non-conforming, grandfathered status. Instead, the city is requiring the park to conform to residential zoning, which the park does not conform to.

  • Is there a way to annex into the city and keep the current grandfathered status?
  • Does the city have the right to impose residential zoning on the park?
  • Frank sometimes recommends getting help from a municipal lawyer in grandfathering cases (none that was the same as this case, as far as I know). Would a municipal lawyer be helpful in this case?

I would very much appreciate ideas on ways to overcome this hurdle.

Note: Easement is in place in those parcels, so getting approval from the parcel owners to lay the water and sewer lines is not an issue.

Many of these legal issues are municipality dependent. I would reach out to a lawyer who may be able to assist.

Thank you for the quick reply, JD.

(consider this as Novice comments as the name states)

Depending on the size of your municipality, you may not find a lawyer from that location who doesn’t have ties to city officials. When I wanted a lawyer who was “immersed” in my city so they would know the rules, the ones I called either said they don’t handle this type of question or they said “conflict of interest” (I found out one was friends w/the same people that run the city thus they don’t want to be in a position of going against their friends.) You may need a wider net to find one.

I would think the city has the right to impose any zoning or rules, within what is currently on the books, to do the annexation? Why would they annex the plot unless it’s to their benefit and it’s following the laws they have for annexation? They could always include a variance to annex with different setbacks, etc. to the ordinances but only if they see that to their benefit and that it doesn’t open a can of worms to other parcels in the city that wanted those same variances. Maybe find out (Open Recs Request if you can’t find out otherwise) if other parks in that city were granted any variances in the ordinances and see if you can use that as leverage. (“well I see you let MHC A have homes closer together and my MHC is going to be well kept and attract good tenants as well but the homes have to be in the same position…”) (ie.City would be getting the additional taxes from your land and homes. It seems more cities and counties are trying to stop manufactured housing because they lose money in the way of taxes vs. stick built homes in the same spot. They now would need to provide Fire and Police and schooling, etc., right? Will it look appealing to them to bring in the park?). Does your current city have to agree to give up your land to the other city? (any hurdles with that?)

Does the well water and wastewater treatment work? Or too old, about to fail? Would your current city be bringing city water and sewer to your location any time soon such that it is wiser to wait for them? Just from my limited but difficult experience (below) about zoning & grandfathering I would NOT purposely give up my grandfathering and legally non-conforming status unless I knew the change would allow for a better means to continue the survivability of the MHC (ie. replacing homes that get too old) at the expense of fewer rents. If your water & waste are failing and you have no choice but hook up with the new city then that means (probably) that you reduce your income by removing homes that don’t fit into the required rules.

When Frank talked about getting that lawyer that the city fears and battling – I think that presupposes you have a leg to stand on with being legally non-conforming. Once you knowingly ask for annexation, if that comes with losing grandfathering, the city will just point to that and say “you knew what you were doing, no we do not agree to a variance”.

In my case – about 26 years ago the owner requested City Council to allow him to place a business on the corner of his lot. They agreed for “just the section” to have a business. But it didn’t matter, it was all one parcel at the time so they made the whole parcel “Commercial”. That now means (according to City and lawyers) that the existing homes (40 yrs old) are able to stay and if you want to demolish one of these distressed, neglected homes out you can (they’d probably be thrilled). Ie. this property lost it’s grandfathering as soon as the owner requested to change zoning.

I cannot bring in a nicer home to replace one of the failing homes. Not only would I need a variance to bring a home into “Commercial” but I would need a variance to situate the home in the spot which is too close to other homes because they changed their setbacks for mobile homes to match a single family home – 11K sq ft for a lot and various distances that are not possible in this property if I were to keep the same # of homes. So part of the city’s argument is “you knew it was Commercial when you bought it and that means no homes go in” ie. too bad for you.

I can envision your potential new city saying the same thing. If you can get them to agree make sure you get it all in writing and guaranteed they can’t change their minds in 10 years and say you are not legally non-conforming. Some things to think about: Can you currently replace homes with your current city? If you switched to the 2nd city, and had to remove homes will the reduced income still be a good investment? Would you be able to replace old homes under the new arrangement with the 2nd city?
Five years ago this same City’s Council minutes show a resident appealing their decision preventing her from bringing in replacement homes for 3 that had a fire or whatever other reason. Her parcel too had been changed to Commercial but the setbacks too were the closer ones from 40 yrs ago. They refused to let her bring homes onto the now empty lots because of it. Now, that park is no longer in existence and nothing is there.

Take your time and get all your questions answered by the experts to consider all the angles that you may not have thought of. Good luck with your decision making.

Novice11, thank you for your thoughtful feedback. These are good tips and insights. Yes, I understood that Frank recommended seeking a municipal attorney given that the park is legally non-conforming. I thought maybe there is a law out there that can trump the city’s annexation/zoning rule.

Yes, the current city will need to give up the land to the other city. The other city stopped allowing mobile home parks in the city a few years ago. However, I had a glimmer of hope because the city development department told me that mobile home park annexation is allowed.

I have yet to do due-diligence of the wells and wastewater treatment plant, however they seem to be fine – they have not had problem passing the EPA and county inspections and the wwtp is in very good condition according to the operator. Current city uses the county water system and the county will not extend the water and sewer lines to the park because it is uneconomical – only a few parcels would be served.

At this point, it does not make sense to annex into the other city. The park won’t be able to operate as a park given that it needs to conform to residential zoning. The other city said that the park is not permitted to be used as residential zone. I think they just want the land for future development.

I have tried to figure out whether the current city will allow home replacement, however it is impossible to get a straight answer from them. I will continue to work on this.

About your current city w/o a straight answer about home replacement – are their ordinances online? My city has them online and you can look up what is allowed in each zoning & the setbacks. Then you can see if the setbacks you have meet what they are currently calling for. (ie. if they do not it, may prevent you from swapping out a home even if your zoning is correct for multiple manufactured homes.) Then armed with the various ordinance numbers you could call/meet with the zoning person to go through exactly what they mean to be sure they are in agreement with the way you interpret any part that is ambiguous. My city also has the zoning map online (that is helpful since the zoning showing up for tax assessment usually has a disclaimer saying this is for tax purposes only) – double check that the zoning map shows the classification that you have found from other sources.

maybe there is a law out there that can trump the city’s annexation/zoning rule: do you have a Manufactured Housing Association in your state? Join them and see what they know about the zoning in your area & state. This is one of the things they would be familiar with. Perhaps the state has a law that will trump unreasonable zoning laws for your area and your local area just doesn’t want to offer that for your awareness. However, I would think that would only apply to your current city in case they have laws preventing you from replacing homes. The 2nd city I don’t think they could be forced to do anything because they would just not annex the property if they didn’t like the terms.

Oh, so the 2nd city would take your land but you couldn’t operate it as a mobile home park because “residential” does not allow mobile homes anymore? (if I’m following the explanation). So only if somehow giving up the homes and selling your lot from within that city is more desirable/fetch higher price (water & sewer hookups would probably help) would it be useful to do the switch. Maybe you could operate your property at the current city and use the 2nd city as a fall back plan (if they are still willing at a later date) to unload the property if you end up running into a major problem.

Such a headache to decide how much of a risk there is to operate in the current city. Good luck.

Yes, I will have to get to know the current city’s ordinances and what is/is not allowed in home replacement. Then, use the park’s legal, non-conforming status, wherever it applies, if the city tries to pull one over on me. Current city has a zoning map and the park is zoned as “Manufactured Home Park District”.

The state MHA’s attorney, who noted that she does not specialize in annexation, thinks that it’d be a difficult case to win. Variance would come into play. She recommended that I work with an attorney that specializes in annexation, if I want to take this farther.

Oh, so the 2nd city would take your land but you couldn’t operate it as a mobile home park because “residential” does not allow mobile homes anymore? The 2nd city did not say whether mobile homes are allowed on residential zones. Their email just said that mobile home park is not a permitted use in their residential zone. My guess is there are plenty of reasons why mobile home park does not fit their residential zone standards (type of home, small lot sizes).

For now, I am planning on operating the park in the current city with the wastewater treatment plant and wells. If I have an unexpected breakthrough, I will post it here so that everyone can benefit.