JOPLIN — The size and value of homes being built in tornado-ravaged sections of Joplin are causing contention between some builders and homeowners, but city officials say they can do little to mediate the disputes.
Many of the disagreements center on manufactured and modular housing and the construction of low-income housing next to higher-priced homes, The Joplin Globe reported.
Residents of one neighborhood complained to the Joplin Planning and Zoning Board after several manufactured or modular houses were towed to lots between their houses. But the board could not take action because no zoning issues were involved.
City Planner Troy Bolander explained that mobile homes and manufactured housing are built on a steel frame, while modular homes are installed on a foundation. City code relegates mobile homes to mobile home parks, but modular homes are allowed in residential neighborhoods.
"The city says they're modular homes, but everybody who looks at them says they look like doublewides," said resident Tim Long. "People who see them say, 'I see you're getting a trailer court.' If it looks like a duck and squawks like a duck, it's a manufactured house."
Douglas Ferguson, general manager of JCDM Construction, said that shortly after he began building a house that will cost about $280,000, a modular home worth about two-thirds less was put in next door. A Habitat for Humanity low-income house also was built across the street and a neighbor converted a garage into a rental house.
"You can almost hear the equity being sucked out the window," he said of his client's house. "That's why you see vast tracts of land where nothing has gone in. We own a bunch of lots, but we're scared of having (someone) putting up a box next door."
Allyn Burt, owner of Charles Burt Realtors, suggested the city could protect property values and tax rolls by dividing tornado-affected area into neighborhoods of like-sized housing. He said architectural guidelines could designate areas for different priced housing, based on square footage with specifications on things like pitch of roof and building materials.
"These old subdivisions do not have covenants or deed restrictions," Burt said. "If anything, the city should have been working on this."
Imposing new zoning regulations might be daunting for tornado-stricken residents who want to return to their own lots, said Darin Luebbering of Advance Systems Homes Inc., Chanute, Kan.
"I think if I was a landowner and I had property in that area and those restrictions weren't there when I bought my house and my land prior to that, I would be a little concerned that the city is trying to tell me what to do now," he said.
Zoning and city restrictions also do not consider human needs, Luebbering said.
"Everybody deserves to have their life back together. If somebody had premium insurance to build back, they deserve to have that $250,000 to $300,000 house because of what they have gone through," he said. "Where the next-door neighbor can only afford $110,000, well, they deserve to have their life back together, too."
Mayor Mike Woolston said the city will monitor the situation but "I don't think people want the city to tell them what size and style of house they should build."