amanda root

RV owner Amanda Root speaks during a press conference in August at Cloud 9 Ranch Estates where she lives.

A lawsuit against the city of Sierra Vista by a group of recreational vehicle dwellers who the municipality said are in violation of zoning regulations was dismissed Thursday.

Thursday’s ruling by Cochise County Superior Court Judge David Thorn gave the city yet another victory in its quest against a handful of RV dwellers living at Cloud 9 Ranch Estates, a manufactured home community that allows RVs, but only in certain areas.

The judge prefaced his decision by saying he would not declare the city’s zoning regulations unconstitutional.

Thorn followed that by telling attorney Paul Avelar, who represents the RV residents, that the city had not taken action against them.

“What’s really hanging me up is that the city hasn’t done anything against your clients,” Thorn said. “I’m going to grant the city’s motion to dismiss without prejudice.”

When a case is dismissed without prejudice in Arizona, it leaves the plaintiff free to bring another suit based on the same grounds.

After the 40-minute hearing, Avelar said he would file an appeal with the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Sierra Vista’s fight against RV residents Amanda Root and her neighbors, Georgia and Grandy Montgomery, started in July 2020 when the city’s code enforcement division sent the trio notices of violation.

Root and the Montgomerys had been co-existing with their neighbors until that point, but a dispute with another resident sparked the complaint after that person called the city and told officials about the RVs.

The notices of violation informed the RV dwellers that their residences were in violation of zoning regulations in their neighborhood. Only manufactured homes are allowed in that section of Cloud 9.

The city initially gave them 30 days to move.

At the time, Root had lived undisturbed in her RV since 2016 and the Montgomerys had lived in theirs since 2014. Root has maintained that she owns the property where her RV is located. The Montgomerys rent their lot.

Root contacted the Phoenix-based Institute for Justice and held a press conference in front of her RV. Avelar is a co-director of the organization, which prides itself on helping homeowners and small business owners fight government.

The city changed its tune and gave the RV dwellers more time. But officials have never taken any other action against the RV residents since July 2020, said City Attorney Nathan Williams.

“No additional enforcement action had been taken since the letters went out last July,” Williams told the judge.

The municipality’s stance against the RV residents was supported by the Planning & Zoning Commission, which recommended against allowing the RVs to stay at Cloud 9, and the city’s community development division. The City Council also voted against the RV dwellers, which in essence was the final blow.

In February, Avelar filed a 30-page complaint against the city on behalf of Root and the Montgomerys, asking for a “permanent injunction barring the City from enforcing its RV Ban against Plaintiffs.”

That’s what Thorn threw out on Thursday.

Zoning laws in Sierra Vista allow RVs in manufactured home parks and any property zoned Recreation Vehicle Park. Cloud 9 Ranch Estates is a manufactured home subdivision. A section of the community does allow RVs, Avelar said, but that section is more expensive and in a less-desirable area of the community.

Root says she owns the property where her RV sits. She does not pay a mortgage and has lived on the parcel for 21 years. Her initial residence, a manufactured house, burned in 2015. A friend gave Root the RV in 2016 so she could stay on her land. The Montgomerys own their RV but rent the land, Avelar said.

Williams threw Root’s ownership of the parcel into question at Thursday’s hearing, saying it was actually owned by someone else and that she had no standing to file a lawsuit. But Avelar said the individual in question had quit-claimed the property to Root years ago.

Root has repeatedly said she can’t afford to buy another manufactured home or move from her property. The city tried to help her find another manufactured home for her property, but Root said the options they gave her were for houses that were in poor condition and she could not afford to make any improvements.

Root requested that the city’s zoning ordinance be amended to allow RVs in the area of Cloud 9 where she lives, but the City Council denied the request. Community Development staff had explained to council members that a requested amendment to the zoning ordinance would affect not only Cloud 9 but also two other communities in the city where there are manufactured homes.

In an email to the Herald/Review a few months ago, a city spokesman said in part, “the requested zoning change would impact individual property owners throughout the affected subdivisions who chose to buy their homes based on the existing zoning.”

Community Development officials also said allowing RVs in areas where they’re not permitted is not in keeping with the “goals and strategies” of Vista 2030, the city’s development plan. Some of those include: promoting quality affordable rental and owner-occupied housing; installing public improvements in targeted areas, where needed, to encourage and strengthen rehabilitation and redevelopment activity; build strong neighborhoods; safeguard the condition and quality of the housing stock in order to maintain attractive and livable neighborhoods; and develop high quality housing developments, among other goals.

Additionally, Community Development staff stated in their findings to the City Council that individuals who purchased lots and erected “site-built or manufactured homes” did so with the expectation that permanent dwellings were the expectation. The staff said RVs are intended for “short-term occupancy” and are not subject to city inspections.

They also said, “recreational vehicles do not promote and encourage the family environment or stabilize and protect the residential character of the district as intended ... recreational vehicles may hinder the City’s stated goal of fostering of the infill and redevelopment in the Cloud 9 and West End Planning Areas.”

At the end of Thursday’s hearing, Avelar explained to his clients that they had probably filed their lawsuit too soon since the city had not taken action against them.

He told them the next stop is the Court of Appeals.