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City officials rule mobile home issue needs more discussion

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council unanimously defeated a motion Monday night to declare two abandoned mobile homes unsafe in violation of city exterior storage and exterior maintenance ordinances.

Instead, the council voted 8-0 to return the concept of removing unsafe mobile homes and subsequent removal costs to the Community Development Committee for more discussion.

The committee had recommended the council declare a mobile home in Regency East and a mobile home in Regency West as unsafe and unfit for human habitation. The homes were found to be unsafe after city staff undertook a sweep last fall of the mobile home parks to enforce storage and exterior maintenance ordinances.

The sweep took place after the city received complaints about conditions in the park from people outside the parks. It became apparent during discussion of the committee's recommendation that council members were hesitant to proceed with removing the homes.

The estimated cost of removal per home is $2,000 to $4,000 and the city is concerend about other homes in the parks also approaching similar deteriorating conditions.

City Attorney Rich Ronning said state law does not allow cities to assess costs for removing a mobile home from a mobile home park. The homes are taxed as personal property and there is no real estate to assess to recoup the cost.

Council member Jim Dokken, who made the motion to declare the homes unsafe, said he now wanted more discussion. He referred to a comment by Bruce Peterson, planning and development director, made during last week's committee meeting, who said of the 180 total homes in the two parks, about 30 met city standards.

"We could be seeing 150 having problems,'' Dokken said. "I'm not in a position to set a precedent without more discussion and maybe the public on the issue.''

Peterson told the council he doubted the city would have problems with 150 homes right away. Over the years, the city has tried to improve conditions in the parks. He said last fall's sweep did not have the success he anticipated.

Previous enforcement efforts have been marginally successful due to uncooperative park ownership and management and the court system, according to city staff.

Peterson said city staff believes the declaration process "is the best way to stem the decline in those parks.''

Council member Steve Ahmann said he did not support the declaration motion and said the issue should be addressed with Kandiyohi County.

Peterson said the county acts as park safety and health licensing agent for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Denis Anderson said the city has a problem with the park's ownership. "There would be 150 homes we could be obligating ourselves to remove. That's outside the bounds of what we should be doing,'' he said.

Tim Johnson said he was concerned about setting a precedent.

"One problem is having recourse against the park owner and make them tow the line with respect to what is happening there,'' he said. "If the county licenses, we should be able to bring some pressure to bear on the county.''

Ron Christianson said the parks were private property. If the city removed the two homes, the park owners would wait for the city to remove others. He said mobile homes are affordable housing to some people.

"The problem is the people living in those trailers and trash them. It's home to a lot of people,'' he said.

After the council defeated the motion, City Administrator Michael Schmit requested clarification of the council's intent.

Council member Doug Reese, acting as mayor in Mayor Les Heitke's absence, and committee chairman Bruce DeBlieck said they understood the council was questioning the concept of incurring and paying for removal costs that would go beyond the two units in question.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150