City Council to reconsider restrictions on mobile homes
by Jennifer Cohron
Dec 13, 2012 | 2454 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
One storm survivor in Cordova protested a city zoning ordinance that bans FEMA trailers by living in a tent for several weeks after his mobile home was destroyed in the April 27, 2011, tornado. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
One storm survivor in Cordova protested a city zoning ordinance that bans FEMA trailers by living in a tent for several weeks after his mobile home was destroyed in the April 27, 2011, tornado. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
CORDOVA — The newly-elected Cordova City Council is revisiting the controversial zoning ordinance that angered residents and thrust the city into the international spotlight following the April 27, 2011, tornadoes.

Resident Martha Stidham urged the council Tuesday night to consider amending the ordinance, which allows multi-sectioned manufactured homes in four areas of the city but prohibits single-wide trailers.

“If y’all don’t want single-wides right through the town, I’ll agree with that, but up on these hills where that’s all there has ever been, people have had to leave because they can’t put a home there,” Stidham said.

Because of the ordinance, which was adopted in 2008, FEMA trailers could not be brought into the city limits following last year’s deadly storms.

Many residents were outraged when city officials refused to bend the rules, and several storm survivors lived in tents for several weeks in protest.

“We didn’t take care of our people, and y’all know we didn’t,” Stidham said.

Residents who were living in a manufactured home at the time of the storm have been allowed to put another one back on their property provided that its condition is as good as or better than the structure that was destroyed.

However, Stidham said the ordinance unfairly favors the city rather than the rights of property owners.

“The law has too much power given to one person in it to start with. One person can say, ‘I just really don’t like the looks of that property and that tree bothers me, so cut it down or I’m not going to give you my approval,” Stidham said.

Stidham, who said she has spoken with an attorney about the issue, also claimed that the city broke its own law by allowing a single-wide mobile home to be set up in the Benchfield neighborhood before the tornado and again more recently by allowing single-wide trailers in the VFW parking lot.

Volunteers with the national disaster relief organization World Renew have been living in the trailers for several months while working on local construction projects.

“You say it’s all for a good reason, and I agree. I won’t take that away from it. But if it ain’t good enough for your citizens that pay their taxes in this city, it ain’t good enough for nobody as far as I’m concerned,” Stidham said.

Only one of the current council members was in office when the zoning ordinance was adopted in April 2008.

Stidham said she would like to see the new crop of officials lift the restrictions on single-wide mobile homes in areas of the city that are not highly populated or visible from downtown.

“Show the people of Cordova that you want to give their town back to them,” she said.

Mayor Drew Gilbert assured Stidham that he and the council will spend the next few weeks educating themselves on the ordinance.

“Since we have a lot of new council members, let me get them a full copy of the ordinance and talk to the Planning Commission about why they adopted the ordinance. There’s two sides to everything. We want to hear both. Then we’ll put that on the agenda for Jan. 8th and make a decision on if we’re amending or altering it,” Gilbert said.

In other action, the council:

•appointed Rhonda Hitchcock and Josh Bagwell to the Cordova Economic and Industrial Authority for six-year terms.

This board will be in charge of the proposed new grocery store and has applied for a $1.5 million grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to fund the project.

The board will be responsible for construction and upkeep of the store as well as collecting rent from the grocer, which is listed in the official paperwork as Bozeman Grocery, Inc., doing business as Piggly Wiggly.

Gilbert said Hitchcock’s experience in finance and Bagwell’s business degree will be important to their service and Cordova’s future.

Gilbert abstained from the vote on Bagwell, who is his brother-in-law.

Hitchcock and Bagwell replace former members Jack Drummond and J.J. Johnson on the board.

•voted to promote Billy Dill from garbage truck driver to assistant street supervisor and assistant waste water operator at a rate of $14 per hour.

Gilbert said Dill’s waste water licensing makes him a prime candidate to help the city with a $2 million grant the city recently received from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development division for improvements to its water and sewer systems.

He added that Dill’s services will be an important part of the in-kind hours required for the grant.

“The sooner we get our hours accrued and we turn that in for the grant, they can move forward to the next phase. We’re actually holding them up right now until we do our portion,” Gilbert said.

•hired Mike Simon as a full-time sanitation department worker at a rate of $10 per hour and Jason Courington to replace Dill as a full-time sanitation truck driver at a rate of $12 per hour.

Gilbert said the city currently has four employees assigned to its street and sanitation department.

“Any given day when the garbage truck is running, we have three people on the truck and one person attempting to do everything else. What I’d like to do is get three on that truck and two off that truck,” Gilbert said.

•re-appointed Kevin Gilbert to the Housing Board. The mayor, who abstained from the vote on his father, said Kevin Gilbert had been recommended for reappointment by Darlene Vines of the Cordova Housing Authority.

•voted to cancel its meeting on Dec. 25 and declared Dec. 31 as a paid holiday for employees. City Hall will be closed that day. The next regularly scheduled meeting will be on Jan. 8 at 7 p.m.

•received an update from disaster recovery coordinator Dean Harbison regarding downtown demolition. Harbison said the latest deadline from FEMA is Jan. 4.

“We’re getting some positive feedback from our FEMA officials. They’re telling us to start preparing things in case it does happen, so that’s hopefully good news for us here in the new year,” Harbison said.

•heard from concerned citizen Paula Earnest, who is seeking city approval to turn a wood frame building on her property into a residence, as well as a refund of money she helped raise for renovations to the VFW prior to the tornado.

Earnest, who organized a concert at the VFW that was canceled because of the storm, said the renovations never occurred.

City clerk Leanne Dawkins said the city can provide receipts showing what they did.

Gilbert said Earnest should be given an answer on both matters on Jan. 8.