Thursday, October 9, 2008
Employer pleads case for family
By SUE WATSON
Marion “Junior” Britt, who employs the father of a family who lost all they had to a fire May 6, appealed to the Marshall County Board of Supervisors two weeks ago to help the family.
He asked the board to overturn a recommendation by the planning commission that denied the family’s request to put a single-wide mobile home in a subdivision whose covenants specify double-wides. The area is zoned for double-wide mobile homes but single-wides are permitted by special exception if there is a hardship.
Charles and Anna Nichols, parents of four children, lost their 15-month-old baby in a fire that demolished their home and two vehicles, Britt said. One child received third degree burns.
“People really stepped up and helped out, but their living situation is a problem,” Britt said. “They have no place to live.”
The church gave the Nichols a used single-wide and Mary Ann Hurdle, the developer of Circle B Farms, gave the family a lot at the subdivision for the family to locate the single-wide with stipulations the Nichols upgrade the mobile home in two years.
But the planning commission denied the Nichols a permit to locate the single-wide in the subdivision, amid objections from neighbors, in a 4-1 vote.
“If this is not a hardship, I don’t know what a hardship is,” said Britt. “In two years they will either build a house or put a double-wide in. They need this chance.”
Britt said in olden days when a farmer lost his barn to a fire, the neighbors would pitch in to build another one.
One planning commissioner has offered the Nichols a place to stay in Potts Camp.
Supervisor George Zinn III, in whose district the lot resides, said he has no problem with the single-wide if the neighbors or developer have none.
“Zoning followed due process and the individuals were notified and weighed in,” he said. “As bad as this sounds, some people moved into the subdivision based 100 percent on the covenants. To just ignore them, I don’t think it would be giving them much consideration. Some people there had wanted to move in a single-wide and were denied.
“You have to consider the will of the people who live in the subdivision, and given that, I would have to support zoning.”
Britt said Hurdle thinks this is a hardship case and “she set the covenants.”
“The Nichols have to build the drive back and would put it behind the trees,” he said.
Zinn noted that the Nichols are buying a lot beside the one donated by Hurdle.
“I don’t think them buying the extra lot was a good move,” he said. “I feel there is some property elsewhere.”
Britt explained that the Nichols put down some money on one lot and Hurdle gave the family the adjacent lot.
Zinn then proffered a motion to uphold the zoning board's decision to deny the single-wide and supervisor Willie Flemon seconded the motion. The motion failed on a vote of 2-3.
“Winter’s coming on and they don't have much time to get a septic tank and electricity,” Britt continued.
“I think it’s a slap in the face to not give residents an opportunity to voice their opinions,” said Zinn. “What about setting a hearing for the September 29 meeting?”
With that the board agreed to hear the Nichols’ appeal then.
Appeal September 29
Interested residents from Bennett Circle, the Nichols’ family and some supporting the Nichols’ appeal to the board of supervisors for a special exception, met with supervisors to resolve the issue Monday, Sept. 29.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett set the rules at two minutes for anyone who spoke.
Charles and Anna Nichols and Junior Britt spoke first.
The Nichols restated their proposal to set up a single-wide mobile home on Lot 54 of the Bennett Circle subdivision and asked for two years to get established. Britt wanted to speak but Bennett said he already had his turn at the previous meeting.
The Nichols returned to their seats and Donna Tanksley, Tony Lyle and Stanley Hudson took seats representing some residents of Bennett Circle who did not want the single-wide in the subdivision.
Tanksley said she had a signed petition, but was not opposed to the Nichols family.
“I am not against the Nichols personally by any means,” she said. “I just don’t want the security of the value of the land affected by the roll of the dice.”
The reference to dice was a metaphor. Tanksley said she had worked at the tables once.
Hudson read the subdivision covenants which he said were the single most important signed documents the people who bought lots and built homes or put in double-wides placed their faith in.
The covenants strictly prohibit single-wides, he said. His 14 neighbors who came after he first moved in complied, he said. Bennett Circle has about 30 percent more vacant lots and some new houses under construction.
“My interpretation of a special exception is if someone lives there and has a fire (zoning) would allow one year (special exception) to rebuild,” Hudson said.
The Nichols have no prior vested interest in the subdivison and if they did, it would be a form of temporary permission, at that, he said.
“Once you set a precedent you cannot deny others,” he said, “and it is not simple to get someone out if they do not do what they say they will do.”
He added that in winter months leaves drop from the trees and everyone's home and structures are visible from the road and realtors advise that a home valued at $100,000 loses from five to seven percent of its appraisal value if a single-wide is in the subdivision.
Hudson said he is concerned what becomes of the single-wide if he (Nichols) moves on after a year. It costs between $5,000 and $10,000 to remove a mobile home, he said.
Lyles read a letter from Carol Boone, who was unable to attend the meeting, in which she expressed sympathy for the Nichols, saying she had to sell her property because of hardships, but found a new community which has covenants that support her current investment and which she loves.
Tanksley said some Bennett Circle residents question whether anyone can stick to a promise they will move on if they have not gotten the financial resources to replace a single-wide in two years.
Lyles said he is investing his future in his property and intends to stay.
Tanksley said she chose Marshall County and Bennett Circle as a place to live because she wanted “peace and quiet after moving eight times in eight years.” She loves the new friends she has found at Bennett Circle and wants property values to stay up.
Supervisor Zinn restated his position to support zoning’s decision to deny the Nichols’ request for a hardship exception.
Attorney Kent Smith said the covenants were written by developers who maintain some right to alter them.
“This board has tried to uphold and honor covenants,” he said. “The issue here is to uphold or to overturn zoning.”
After some board discussion, Zinn’s motion passed unanimously to uphold zoning’s recommendation to deny the Nichols’ application for a single-wide.
M&F Bank president Greg Taylor sat with the Nichols family and explained that Marshall County Habitat for Humanity may be able to provide a solution for the community and to the Nichols family.
“I’m definitely interested,” said Charles Nichols.
“A Habitat house is not free,” said Taylor. “Some time, labor and materials are donated so that Habitat can build a house at half the cost of construction.”
A typical Habitat house is 1,200 square feet brick construction with central heat and air. Those who are approved for a Habitat house put 400 hours of their own labor into building their own home or another Habitat house.
Those who receive a Habitat house begin paying back the loan principal at about $300 a month, he said.
Area builders and framers offer to help build the house to keep construction costs down.
“I have to say it pulls the community together to work together on a project,” he said.
Anna Nichols offered her appreciation to the Bennett Circle residents, saying she has a better understanding of their concerns than when they first appeared before zoning.
The meeting concluded with numbers of the Bennett Circle community offering to help build the Habitat house for the Nichols if they apply for and are approved for a Habitat house loan.
The Bennett Circle men said they know much about building a house and have friends in the trades as well who would likely help out.
“I will learn to paint,” said Tanksley.
Tanksley invited the Nicholses to bring their children to her house for a Halloween party.
The Nichols and their prospective new neighbors left the board room together to go outside and discuss the possibilities.
Tanksley attributed the Habitat idea to Chuck Thomas, who conceived of it as a solution for the Nichols family and the residents of Bennett Circle.
(Editor's note: Last week the Nichols found a home in Potts Camp and have settled there, according to supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett. "They have moved in right next to me," he said.)
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