25-foot distance adopted for Jackson mobile homes

Staff Writer

By clare m. masi

25-foot distance adopted
for Jackson mobile homes

JACKSON — Amidst a torrent of commotion, confusion and audience participation, an ordinance reinstituting the original 25-foot minimum distance required between mobile homes was unanimously adopted by the Township Com-mittee.

Residents of several mobile home parks and attorneys representing the owners of some of the parks came to state their views at a July 23 public hearing on the code.

In the weeks after the ordinance was introduced, Mayor Joseph Grisanti was quoted as saying that prior to 1993 the township code mandated a minimum distance of 25 feet between mobile home units. He said at some point the code was amended to permit replacement homes to be installed at a distance of no closer than 10 feet from an adjoining unit.

In the case of replacement mobile home units installed between May 24, 1993, and the effective date of the 2001 ordinance, the units will be required to comply with the standards and regulations governing at the time of installation.

Grisanti said that "going back to the original plan will give neighbors more than just an arm’s distance between them."

"We don’t want the owners of the mobile home parks jamming the mobile units in all over the place," the mayor said.

Attorney Christopher J. Hanlon of Freehold Township, representing Sam Landy, the owner of the Southwind Mobile Home Community, said the ordinance would essentially have no effect on existing units, but said that replacement mobile homes would be "seriously affected."

Hanlon explained that the problem will lie with older mobile homes that were built before the Uniform Construction Code was put into effect.

"Mobile home units that were built in the 1950s and 1960s were subject to a standard of 8 to 12 feet wide. They were much narrower than the current standard required today, which is 14 to 16 feet," Hanlon said.

"You cannot get an 8- to 10-foot-wide replacement anymore," Hanlon said, adding that 12-foot-wide units are available, but at a premium price.

Hanlon said mobile homes built in the 1960s are becoming obsolete. He said when the unit needs to be replaced, the owner can do one of two things: "We can work on suburban revitalization and upgrade the community," thereby benefiting the town as a whole, or leave the "clunkers" in place as a result of what he called a "financial obstacle."

Grisanti said he felt the owner of the mobile home park was "running a campaign of fear by putting the fear of God into the people by threatening to raise their rents. This is not a rent issue. We are trying to improve the quality of life for residents in this community by making more appropriate setbacks."

Landy said he expected to have a fair return on his investment and said this ordinance would prohibit him from doing that.

"Our thought process is this," Grisanti said. "If you have a lot that presents you with a hardship, you can appeal to the zoning board for a variance. What we have a problem with now is giving landlords a blanket zoning to this where maybe it doesn’t belong."

To which Hanlon responded, "You are giving us a financial disincentive."

Committeeman Michael Kafton told Hanlon that if a park owner was to put a 28-foot double-wide mobile home unit on a space that was meant for an 8- to 10-foot-wide unit, "we’re (the committee) losing the process of having the residents have their say. The problem is not replacing a single unit with another single unit, it’s replacing a single unit with a double-wide unit."

Mobile home resident Mark Bendy told the committee that "replacing older units with double-wide upgraded units would improve the integrity of the park itself."

‘The path to hell is paved with good intentions," said Gloria Greenberg, the attorney representing the Land O’ Pines mobile home park. ‘The owners would not be able to put up replacement homes without a variance and sometimes there is no money for variances."

Greenberg asked for a meeting between township officials and mobile home park owners to "grab something together that works. This isn’t just hurting the landowners, it’s hurting the residents as well."

Greenberg claimed that "the previous law had not been enforced all these years."

Fred Hebeler, the owner of the Land O’ Pines mobile home park, said if he could not replace a unit on a lot because of new rules he would lose that lot.

"How many lots can we lose before our rents shrink and then we’ll be forced out of business?" he asked.

Greenberg asked audience members for a show of hands to show who supported the ordinance. No one from Lands O’ Pines raised their hands in favor of the ordinance.

"Please table this until we can spend some time discussing it," Greenberg asked the committee.

Robert Fine, a resident of the South-wind Mobile Home Park, owns an 85-by-55-foot piece of property.

"This is what we pay for," Fine said. "This previous ordinance allows them to steal property we’ve been paying for over the last 30 years. The owner is trying to steal the seniors’ land. We’ll be losing 50 feet of our land, but the owner will not be losing any of his rents."

Robert Ryley, the aide to the Township Committee and a resident of the Fountain-head Mobile Home Park, spoke as a resident, reiterating Grisanti’s earlier comment that "this was not a rent issue, it’s a quality of life issue.

"Mr. Landy sent letters to his residents terrorizing them," Ryley said. "In essence, he told them he would be punishing them by raising their rents $140 a month. Ultimately, what he wants to do is to put more units on less land."

Ryley asked the committee to reverse the 1993 mobile home park amendments that he said were "sneaked in."

Committeeman Sean Giblin tried to ease residents’ worries by assuring them that by not giving landlords a "blanket opportunity to do what they wanted," committee members were "giving the residents a chance for their voices to be heard that were not heard before."

Grisanti told members of the audience who were concerned over the issue that the town’s mobile home park owners had two weeks to contact the committee since the ordinance was introduced on July 9.

"Instead, they rallied people by instilling fear into all of you," the mayor said, adding that "scare tactics" were used in telling residents their rent would be raised if the ordinance was adopted.