Zoning ordinance changes in Minot

Additional manufactured homes are unlikely to locate next to site-built houses in Minot’s residential neighborhoods in the future, due to a new zoning ordinance adopted by the Minot City Council this month.

Since the flood of 2011, the council has approved about 35 building relocation permits to allow placement of manufactured homes among site-built homes, often in the valley. Residents restoring their flood-damaged homes haven’t always welcomed the manufactured homes, which are constructed to a different building code and traditionally have been placed in mobile home parks.

In the year after the flood, there were few council votes against requests to replace flood-damaged homes with manufactured homes. Although the council has continued to approve the requests into 2013, the number of council members voting in the affirmative has been declining.

Council member Scott Knudsvig, a previous supporter who voted against recent requests, said times have changed. The post-flood housing crisis that prompted the council to support the permit requests has eased.

“There’s been a shift in the housing market in Minot. It’s not the same as it was right after the flood,” he said.

The new ordinance changes the rules and relegates manufactured homes to areas zoned specifically for them.

The ordinance is restrictive enough that it is unlikely that manufactured homes will continue to be sited outside designated areas, council member Amy Moen said. She added she hasn’t been satisfied with every manufactured home that the council has permitted in residential areas.

“I am not against that, but they need to fit the integrity of the neighborhood,” she said. “The council as a whole felt like we had to do what we could to get people back in their neighborhoods, but doing it the fastest way is not always the right way.”

The council discovered problems with some of the permitted homes. Sometimes forced to slip a manufactured home in sideways to fit onto a lot, the result was a home with no door or even a window facing the street.

Council member Kevin Connole, one of the first to turn against manufactured homes in single-family residential areas, said he began taking a hard stance after discovering that no manufactured home survived the flood well enough to be repaired. At least one became a danger when it threatened to float into the river channel, he said.

“The biggest problem I have with them is having them in the valley. We have no flood protection,” he said, referring to the potential for the river to over-top its banks again.

Connole also said he is troubled that city staff inspect the piers on which the homes are attached but not the actual installation. The state oversees installation through requiring the work be done by state-certified installers.

Manufactured homes secured to piers are considered to be on permanent foundations, city assessor Kevin Ternes said. They are taxed as real estate like site-built homes rather than as personal property, which is how mobile homes typically are taxed.

Liz Hoppman, whose house in the valley is across the street from a manufactured home, said the existence of one manufactured home eliminates justification for denying others based on neighborhood compatibility.

“Once they cross that barrier, then you are subject to living in a trailer park. I think the council made a huge mistake by allowing them to begin with,” Hoppman said. “We are looking forward to the neighborhoods coming back. It’s nice to see a lot of the work that’s been done down there, and there’s a lot more to do, but I don’t think, in looking at it long-term, they made a wise decision.”

By allowing the manufactured homes in older residential areas but not in newer ones, they have created a second-class neighborhood, Hoppman added.

“I just think it cheapens the neighborhood,” she said.

George Withus, a council member who lives in the valley, said he is satisfied with the manufactured homes placed in his part of town. As an alternative to rotting houses and weeds, a manufactured home with a landscaped yard improves the neighborhood, he said.

Manufactured homes look much like site-built homes when done right, he said, noting that city assessment and building officials have indicated the homes are a fit for some valley neighborhoods and are likely to appreciate in value.

However, Doug Benjamin believes the manufactured home permitted by the city as a rental unit in his southeast Minot neighborhood is devaluing property.

“In most of the cases, they look better than what was standing at the time, but you look down the road 20 years from today and see what kind of shape they are going to be in,” he said.

The Minot Board of Realtors has discussed manufactured homes, and while many members would prefer manufactured homes be located in separate zones, the board has not taken a formal position, said president Ashleigh Collins.

Withus said the lower-cost manufactured homes have provided another option for flood victims who cannot afford to rebuild.

“At least, this is a start for people. Until they can come up with affordable housing for low- to moderate-income people, we need to do something to help them out,” he said.