Sunday, July 29, 2012

Trailer Park Owner Says City's Unfair Application Of Local Land Use Rules Nothing But A Land Grab; Officials Deny Inverse Condemnation Charge

In Panama City, Florida, the News Herald reports:

  • Over the last eight months, the Waldrop Trailer Park has slowly been dismantled. The 30 mobile homes that made up the park are down to four. Only one is occupied, and Bay County Builders Services reported none are habitable.

    It won’t be long before all the trailers are gone. While not everyone is disappointed by this, at least one person is: Joe Sikes. Sikes and Cameron Skinner are principals of Waldrop Park LLC, the company that purchased the Waldrop in 2010 with the hopes of running the trailer park before selling the land at a profit.

    Instead, Sikes said, the property is headed to foreclosure, and he believes it is because the city wants to take possession of the land, a charge city officials deny.
  • Waldrop Park LLC purchased the property in October 2010, and it didn’t take long before the new owners were informed of code violations. [...] The code enforcement issues at the park weren’t insurmountable, Sikes said. The death knell was a new business license was required.

    Panama City regulates where mobile homes can be located, and the mobile homes must meet state requirements. After a change in city regulations, the Waldrop Trailer Park became a nonconforming use but was grandfathered in. When the park sold, it lost that status.

    The trailer park is located in a mixed-use area, so approved mobile homes would be allowed, but only after a development order was obtained and the park reconfigured to meet new regulations.

    An Aug. 3, 2011, email from Wade Reynolds, a planner for the city, states Sikes can call him for information about obtaining a development order to develop the property as a manufactured home subdivision. Sikes said doing that would have reduced the number of mobile homes allowed on the land.

    All of our lots were inhabited by families, by low-income families,” he said. “How do I go tell these people they have to move?

    Because the trailer park didn’t meet land use requirements, Sikes said the city planning department would not sign off to allow the business license to be approved. Sikes said he responded by calling Mayor Greg Brudnicki and explaining the situation to him.

    A code enforcement investigation narrative notes the day after Reynolds sent Sikes the email, Brudnicki asked the planning department to back off the complaint, but the business license was never issued. Sikes said he knew he wouldn’t be able to obtain the business license, so he told city officials he would have the trailers moved off the land.

    Of 30 trailers, Sikes said he moved 20, six were torn down and four are still there. It won’t be long until the property becomes vacant, and it likely will go into foreclosure.

    George Wilson, who identified himself as the mortgage holder during the code enforcement hearing, said he plans to initiate foreclosure proceedings and expects to take possession soon.

    Sikes said he believes Waldrop Park LLC was unfairly targeted with mobile home requirements, although the city disagrees. “We’ve been effectively shut down because we have the last big piece of property that the port can get,” he said. “The port can only grow … toward the trailer park.”

    Sikes said other sizable trailer parks in the city have been sold after the city’s manufactured home regulations were put in place and it wasn’t enforced. “I personally bought and sold another trailer park in Panama City, and they never enforced it on me over there,” he said. He said he believes it is part of larger plan for the city to obtain the property for the port.
  • The city has denied having any ulterior motive. In a June 27 email to City Manager Ken Hammons, City Attorney Rowlett Bryant wrote that when Sikes proposed selling the land to the Port Authority, representatives weren’t sure how to respond because they didn’t want to buy the property.

    I told them that it would be neighborly to respond and I wrote them and told that (the) port was not interested in the purchase of the property. The port does not need this parcel of property for its operations,” he wrote.

    Bryant also said he “gives no credence” to the suggestion the city was taking part in inverse condemnation action.

    Still, Sikes believes the action was less about the condition of the property and more about its location. “It’s a land grab,” he said. “It’s exactly what it is.”

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