Lake Norman & Mooresville

Leaders weigh town goals, property rights

Exercising a little flexibility in interpreting a town ordinance, Mooresville commissioners may have saved one man and his family from losing their home.

Last month, Mooresville commissioners voted to allow for the replacement of rundown mobile homes in the Mooresville Mill Village.

The decision generated a lot of discussion among commissioners because it went against the current standards in the town's neighborhood conservation overlay ordinance.

The ordinance was written a couple of years ago to preserve the historical integrity of the homes in the Mooresville Mill Village, which were built in the early 1900s.

At the time, the Mooresville Mill owned the homes and rented them to workers, said Town Manager Erskine Smith.

By the 1990s, the Mooresville Mill had fallen victim to the same fate of other rural mills but the homes remained.

Today, the homes remind residents of what it was like to live in Mooresville at the turn of the century. They bear some of the architectural features that were once popular, such as large front porches and pitched roofs.

But the rapid growth in the area threatened the historical integrity of the homes, with some homeowners making drastic renovations and others renting their homes, said Smith.

Thus, the town worked with residents over several months to create the overlay district. Among other things, the district prohibited mobile homes in the area.

"The goal was to preserve the housing stock and stabilize the neighborhood," said Smith.

Existing mobile homes were grandfathered into the new ordinance.

But Commissioner Chris Carney said town officials discovered a hole in the ordinance when a resident approached them recently about replacing his rundown mobile home.

The home was in such disrepair, that he had to take his children to live with family.

"Who are we to tell people who have been grandfathered in that they don't have the right to a newer and better home for their family on a piece of land that they own," said Carney.

Ultimately, commissioners Mitch Abraham, Carney and Thurman Houston voted in favor of allowing the replacement of the mobile units while commissioners Miles Atkins, Rhett Dusenbury and Mac Herring voted against it.

Mayor Chris Montgomery ended the tie vote by siding with Abraham, Carney and Houston.

The decision means owner-occupied mobile units can be replaced once they've deteriorated by more than 50 percent of the structural replacement costs.

Rental units are not eligible.

Carney acknowledged the difficult decision that town officials had to make but said he was pleased with the conclusion.

"If you make a planning document the be all, end all of a decision, you don't need elected officials to weigh out the pros and cons," he said. "This was a hole in the policy that needed to be fixed.