RACELAND Raceland residents vexed by a proposed mobile home park, including one man who was ejected from the community center, voiced their frustration to the city council during a 3 1/2 hour meeting that was, at times, chaotic.
The council met Tuesday night to decide whether to rezone about 2.5 acres of property near Williams Avenue. A businesswoman, Kimberly Eickler, owns the lot and wants to turn it into a mobile home park, but needs final approval from the city.
The Greenup County Joint Planning Commission had already reviewed the proposal and had a public hearing. Commission Chairman Tom Saylor reported the findings to the council on Tuesday.
Ultimately, the council voted to send the proposal back to the joint planning commission for further review.
But that decision came about 2 1/2 hours into the meeting, after and before residents who live near the proposed park, and its prospective owner, spoke out.
The council allowed residents to speak seemingly at will, even prior to the scheduled public comment period. At one point, three local residents stood together at the podium and spoke on the same topic.
The room was at high capacity. It was also noisy, as members of the crowd and council talked among themselves throughout most of the meeting and a loud air conditioner fan muffled the conversations.
The volume was cranked up when time came for the council to discuss a possible property tax rate increase.
The council has mulled an increase in recent months. Officials said the city needs more revenue, in part to re-pave damaged roadways within city limits.
Councilman Matt Abrams turned to the crowd and asked, “What do you all think?”
A local resident stepped to the podium and suggested the city look at other ways to boost revenue, including taking city vehicles away from all employees except police officers, cutting part-time workers or increasing the payroll tax instead of the property tax. He said Raceland is one of the poorest cities in the county, and pointed out the school district had recently approved a new nickel tax.
“We can’t not raise the city’s rate because we have a high school tax,” said Mayor Michael Wilson. “The city needs to raise with inflation.”
The resident asked the council to have a special meeting to reconsider all finances and revenue generators, including its property tax. The council obliged, and plans to meet again Tuesday.
Another local resident, Jim Hassler, who lives near Williams Avenue, rose to the podium and said he wondered how the city could consider raising property taxes, and “at the same time you’re putting in a trailer park.”
Some council members said a new trailer park could provide additional tax revenue to the city.
“It doesn’t help us,” Hassler argued. “Our property is going to depreciate.”
As he walked away from the podium, Hassler accused the council of taking side deals to let the proposed mobile home park open. Some on the council laughed off the accusation, and Councilman Eddie Cumpton refuted it.
“Who just laughed at me?” asked Hassler as he returned to his seat.
Wilson gaveled, and warned attendees they “can come speak, but must be reasonable.”
“I’m not going to have that kind of talk,” said Wilson. “Am I clear?”
“Not really,” said Hassler, before Wilson pointed his gavel at police officers in the back of the room and asked them to escort Hassler out.
Hassler exited the building peacefully. But the outrage over the proposed mobile home park did not leave with him.
Later in the meeting, Wilson told council members and the audience Saylor would provide background information on the proposal. Abrams, who spoke out frequently during the meeting and often called on audience members who held their hand up, said he did not know who Saylor was, as Saylor walked across the room.
“In June, Ms. Eickler came to the city,” said Saylor. “She requested to purchase a piece of property on Williams Avenue with the purpose of putting a manufactured home park next to an existing mobile home park.”
A larger mobile home park, with about 40 mobile homes, is adjacent to the property Eickler owns. Eickler has completed all the necessary steps in her bid for a new mobile home park, but the city must rezone the property before she can proceed, Saylor said.
Saylor said residents who live near Williams Avenue attended the public hearing and voiced concerns about potential damages to the street, and problems with water and sewer that could result if the mobile home park is approved.
Most of those same residents were at the meeting Tuesday night, and lined up behind the podium. Some said they also fear a potential rise in crime stemming from a new mobile home park.
Eickler said she would ensure all applicants would be subject to background checks and the application process would be rigorous. Her mother would be living in the mobile home park, therefore she wanted to make sure the environment was safe, she added.
Raceland resident Becky West later addressed the council. She said she was an employee of Housing and Urban Development and has “seen it all.”
“They’ll lie and say, ‘I’ve never done drugs, never had a criminal record.’ But you cannot stop crime,” said West, adding she’s “terrified” of trailer parks.
Other residents said they worry their property value would decrease if the mobile home park was approved. Eickler, and local realtor Lisa Robertson argued the residents already have homes surrounding the larger mobile home park that has existed for several decades.
Robertson said her client simply wanted to find a “decent and affordable” place for her mother’s trailer, and decided to buy the property with the aspiration of turning the surrounding lot into a mobile home park.
“This is trying to bring something good for your community,” said Robertson. “I grew up in a trailer. It hurts to feel like a mobile home park gets a trailer-trash stigma. She (Eickler) is not planning on moving in people who are rowdy, who do drugs. I don’t know how another mobile home park is going to affect your home value.”
“It’s not just the property value we’re concerned with,” said a resident. Another member of the crowd asked the council if there were any private negotiations between the property owner and the officials.
“You insulted me on the phone, and I’m not going to listen to it again,” Wilson told the woman. “You insinuated that I was on the take. I’m not going to listen to it again.”
Eickler also defended herself, stating she knew no one on the council prior to the meeting and “no arrangements have been made.”
Some residents asked if Eickler would install a privacy fence. Eickler said she would.
But the criticism from the opposition continued.
Raceland resident Maria Hassler raised logistical questions regarding mobile homes entering the neighborhood.
“This would mean 21 residences going into a small, congested area,” she said, adding she’d measured the width of the nearby street and parts of it were only 13 feet. “We can’t handle the traffic now. Cars are already driving on the other side of the road.”
Hassler also argued the city would not net much tax revenue from the mobile homes, based on the size and property values of the structures.
Some council members said the mobile home park could provide an extra $37,000 initially.
“Is it really worth all the wear and tear on the roads?” Hassler asked.
The council later took a brief recess. When it returned, Wilson said residents could have only a five-minute time limit, and those who’d already spoken could not speak again. That rule was loosely followed, as the spirited discussion continued.
Raceland resident Anita Price took the podium, and her statements quieted the room. She cited the city’s own mobile home ordinance, which states mobile home parks must be on at least 10 acres of land. She pointed out the proposed park would not meet that requirement.
Some council members and City Attorney Jim Lyon huddled and looked at the ordinance.
“After having reviewed the definition of a mobile home park,” said Lyon, “I recommend city council remand this matter back to the joint planning commission.”
The council followed the recommendation. But the open discussion on a mobile home park did not end.
Eickler said she had received assurance from the property seller that she could open a mobile home park on the property if it was rezoned.
Cumpton told Eickler it appeared she’d “been lied to.”
“This would’ve been much easier if it was zoned that way,” said Cumpton. “It’s a hard sale, maam.”
The debate over a possible increase in crime related to mobile home residents continued.
“You think I would put my mom somewhere I didn’t think she was safe?” asked Eickler, in response to another resident who was standing across the room.
After the three-hour mark passed, the council moved on from the topic.
Earlier in the meeting, other local residents, including Russell Police Chief Tim Wilson, the mayor’s brother, had spoken out about the city’s new $9 monthly water fee for customers who take city water, but don’t live within city limits. Nearby cities, including Flatwoods, have passed similar fees for outside customers this summer.
The Raceland council already gave final approval to the new water fee, but after some residents asked for a repeal, the officials may revisit the issue again Tuesday.
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