A protest related to the Bryan City Council’s decision last month to limit where manufactured homes can be installed in the city limits was found to be invalid, the city announced Friday.
Council members on April 9 voted 5-2 to remove the MU-1 mixed-use residential district zoning from the city’s zoning ordinance and convert those properties to Residential District RD-5 zoning. Had the protest been successful, the council would have fallen a vote short of the supermajority that would have been needed for the amendment to pass.
But the protest “didn’t rise to anywhere near the critical mass” required by law to require a supermajority vote, Bryan Mayor Andrew Nelson said Friday. The protest was invalid because the signatures were not “duly acknowledged” by an authorized officer such as a notary public. Even so, the protest also fell short of the number of valid signatures that would have been needed from property owners.
The protest process is allowed through the city’s zoning ordinance and requires signatures to be gathered from property owners representing at least 20% of the land area subject to the zoning change or 20% of the adjoining land within the 200-foot notification area. If this threshold is met, amendments have to be approved by a three-fourths vote of the City Council.
Nelson said the protest was only signed by owners of 12% of the MU-1 zoned land subject to the change, and by owners of 0.12% of area of the adjacent land extending 200 feet.
“That’s an extremely high threshold to ask for a 6-1 vote on anything, so that’s why they clearly outline what the requirements are for the protest,” Nelson said. “No matter how you slice it, the protest would not be valid.”
MU-1 was Bryan’s only district that allowed manufactured homes on individual lots. The amendment approved by the council bars the new installation of manufactured homes on vacant lots, but they can still be installed in the city’s 30 mobile home communities.
The change came from a Planning and Zoning Commission subcommittee that determined that while manufactured housing makes up a significant component of the local affordable housing market, it had concerns about appearance, durability, price appreciation and the impact those factors have on the values of adjacent properties. The zoning amendment received significant pushback, though.
Opponents have expressed concerns about housing affordability and property rights, with some worrying that the change will displace low-income residents. The majority of MU-1-zoned properties are located in Single Member Districts 1 and 2.
The protest was circulated by Young Dems BCS, which said it gathered signatures from 576 property owners. In a statement Friday, Young Dems BCS President Stephanie Koithan questioned why the city included streets and alleys in its calculation of the area of the land covered by the zoning change.
“What we want to know is who lives in an alley,” she said. “Why would they count streets other than to lower the percentage of total affected land that our signatures represent? Streets and alleys cannot have homes on them; therefore, they should not be counted.”
The zoning change affects roughly 2,600 parcels of land with 1,167 owners and renders 750 manufactured homes as nonconforming but legally allowed. City officials have said that about 85% of those manufactured homes are not owner-occupied. Nelson said he was unsure how many of those who signed the protest were confirmed to be property owners.
In approving the zoning change, the city gave property owners of vacant lots a 90-day period to request an exception to build an owner-occupied manufactured home. Existing manufactured homes in neighborhoods can also be replaced one time before new housing will have to conform with the new zoning. The effects of the change could take decades to affect current residents, city officials say.
Nelson expressed his frustration Friday about information he says manufactured housing residents were given that led them to believe the change would force them out of their homes.
“We already have people who are struggling to make ends meet, and we want to provide safer, better housing,” Nelson said. “We don’t need people scaring people, lying to them, telling them that they’re gonna be kicked out of their homes if we pass a zoning change.”
Nelson, who noted that he grew up in a mobile home park in the community, said he thinks manufactured homes can make a “great” temporary option. But providing “better, safer” housing options is important for Bryan, he said. Several builders have told the mayor that after the elimination of the MU-1 zoning, they feel comfortable considering building affordable infill options in Districts 1 and 2 knowing their investments won’t be affected by the installation of a manufactured home next door, he said.
The zoning change was an “essential step” in getting the local development community to build affordable housing, Nelson said, adding that Single Member District 1 and 2 Councilmen Reuben Marin and Prentiss Madison are working on an affordable housing initiative.
“When people are making their next decision for what to do, we are going to have a program that gives them a compelling reason to consider a site-built home that they will be able to afford,” Nelson said. “And I’m confident that we’re doing it. Their leadership is making a difference right now, and I’m working with them on it.”
Madison had one of the votes in April against eliminating the MU-1 zoning, along with Single Member District 4 Councilman Mike Southerland.
The review of the protest, which was submitted April 9, ended Friday after evaluations from staff in the city attorney’s office, city secretary’s office and the planning department.