Rezoning to allow mobile home park expansion

Mobile homes are shown in the Garden City Mobile Home Park in Garden City, an unincorporated town west of Columbus, Ind., Wednesday, June 20, 2018. The mobile home park sits on the Garden City Groundwater Plume Superfund site. The federal Environmental Protection Agency sought public comment about a proposed cleanup of the contaminated groundwater. The cleanup is expected to cost around $320,000. Mike Wolanin | The Republic

Garden City Mobile Home Community LLC is one step closer to adding additional housing to its mobile home park, but there’s still a long road ahead.

Columbus City Council has approved the first reading of a rezoning ordinance for the property. The vote was 4-3, with Elaine Hilber, Jerone Wood and Frank Miller voting against the proposal. Since city council requires two readings to approve ordinances, the same item will likely be on the agenda for the council’s Aug. 18 meeting.

If approved, the ordinance would rezone a one-acre property on 960 Jonesville Road, immediately south of the existing Garden City Mobile Home Park, to “Residential: Manufactured Home Park.” The acre is currently zoned for “Residential: Single Family 2.” The owner, Dana DelSignore, is looking to add up to seven additional homes on the property.

The rezoning ordinance contains seven commitments for DelSignore. These commitments were presented by planning director Jeff Bergman and are as follows:

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The subject property is to be combined with the existing mobile home park parcel and developed with shared access and amenities.

No new homes may be occupied until public water service has been established.

A 6-foot tall fence shall be constructed along the railroad tracks.

Direct access from the subject property to State Road 11 shall be limited to emergency and construction use only.

Additional State Road 11 right-of-way shall be dedicated along the frontage of the subject property.

A minimum of 3,400 square feet of open space, including picnic and playground amenities, shall be provided.

No new homes will be installed until annexation occurs.

The seventh and final recommendation, regarding annexation, was recently added to the ordinance by Bergman. The city council voted to approve the amendment, then voted on the amended ordinance.

Prior to this meeting, the Columbus Plan Commission approved the rezoning with a 6-5 vote, although the planning department staff did not recommend the rezoning in its report.

According to the report, “The rezoning does not represent responsible growth and development. … The most desirable use of this area is residential and not dense residential. The RMH zoning district is intended to be used in areas with highly developed infrastructure and this site does not meet that standard.”

“The closest location to get sort of the typical variety of convenience goods and household items is going to be the Columbus Crossing area. … And that’s about two miles away,” Bergman said. He added that those amenities wouldn’t be safely accessible on foot or by bicycle.

He also said that Jonesville Road/State Road 11 is on the property’s east side and the Louisville-Indiana Railroad side is on its west side. The site also lacks sidewalks, curbs and gutters.

In addition, the staff report notes that there are no transit services in the area, as it is outside Columbus city limits. However, the area might become eligible for the Call-a-Bus paratransit service after annexation.

Jeff Rocker, DelSignore’s attorney, said some of these problems would be lessened as a result of Columbus Regional Health’s proposed nearby development.

“I think the distance from amenities sort of resolves itself as CRH continues to develop the properties that they bought,” he said. “And as they become a new anchor in that part of the city, things will come, you know. So I think the amenities will get closer. The roadways that will be established to serve CRH will provide better, safer, walkable, bikeable, drivable accesses to the west side.”

While the planning department staff gave a favorable recommendation for the site’s annexation, DelSignore has decided to hold off on getting the property annexed for the time being. This decision is tied to his efforts to bring city water service to the area.

Bergman said that while the mobile home park is served by the city sewer system, it is not served by the city’s water utility at present. Instead, the park is served by shared wells.

“They are interested in being served by Columbus City Utilities for water,” Bergman said. “… One of the promising avenues that they’ve described to us, to get water to that site, is to apply for a grant through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. … That grant would not be available to them if they were annexed into the city limits. And for that reason, they have withdrawn their annexation request.”

DelSignore said that they’re applying for a $500,000 grant from OCRA. Rocker said that the deadline for the grant proposal is October and that the grant funds are crucial for funding the project.

“When we originally estimated the cost out of Dana’s pocket to do this project, before we knew there was a grant, it was about a $200,000 project, was our estimate at that time,” Rocker said. “It looks like it could be as much as two and a half times that, out of his pocket. Regardless of the grant money, it’s probably over a $1 million project.”

He added that it’s possible that they might receive the grant, but at a different amount than they originally applied for.

Getting city water service for the mobile home park is a driving force in the project.

“The waterline is very expensive,” DelSignore said. “So we’re trying to spread the cost. Currently, we’re licensed for 46 spots in our community. And so we’re trying to pick up the additional six or seven or so. I say six because we’ll have to eliminate one to provide access. … We’re trying to spread those costs, which are very expensive anyway amongst, you know, basically 46 or 47 houses, and it’s very difficult to do that.”

According to the planning staff report, city water service would help mitigate the risk of groundwater contamination.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “The Garden City Ground Water Plume site is located beneath the town of Garden City, with the highest concentrations of contamination located at the intersection of 900 Jonesville Road and County Road 100.”

The EPA also noted that, “Since 1990, trichloroethylene (TCE) has been detected at the site occasionally, which the levels are sometimes higher than the drinking water standards. … Exposure to TCE can cause cancer and potentially poses hazards to human health. The source of the contamination is currently unknown.”

According to the planning staff report, the site is currently served by two wells with filter/softener units to provide safe drinking water, and the water is regularly tested by Element Materials Technology, with results reported to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Office of Water Quality.

In responding to city council’s questions, DelSignore and Rocker stressed the importance of adding more low-income housing to the area. Rocker noted that the mobile home park residents, who pay about $300 a month on average, are not tenants but homeowners.

“These are people that use their own, hard-earned money to buy a house, and that’s where they can afford to do it,” he said. He added that this is another reason the grant is crucial, as it would keep the project cost from trickling down to residents’ bills.

“When you’re talking about this price range of housing, every dollar really is mission critical,” Rocker said.

City councilman David Bush, who is the city council liaison to the city plan commission, said that the project would improve conditions for the current residents and respond to a need for affordable housing.

“Dana has a waiting list for this property,” Bush said. “… If it was available, he could add five homes tomorrow, because that need in our community is so great.”

Hilber, however, expressed concerns about the safety of continuing to add housing so close to the highway and railroad.

“I understand the affordable housing piece, but, for me, I think we are in the business of providing safe and affordable housing,” Hilber said. “It comes both ways. And so that’s where a lot of my concern is, if we expand the housing, we add people to this area that maybe isn’t the safest.”

Earlier in the meeting, Rocker said that most mobile home parks are not built on valuable land or land that would be developed for other projects.

“That doesn’t make it right,” Miller said. “And if we look right in our own city now, we have one (a mobile home park) that’s on a good parcel of land, Candlelight, so it can happen. So the argument that they’re not always on the best property, that doesn’t ring right with me.”