SIERRA VISTA — Residents of recreational vehicles who have been ordered to remove their homes from their properties because they’re in violation of their neighborhood’s zoning filed a lawsuit against the city on Tuesday in Cochise County Superior Court.
The 30-page complaint, filed by the Institute For Justice, a non-profit organization that represents homeowners and small business owners, was promised in July after their clients, Amanda Root and Grandy and Georgia Montgomery, received a letter from the city’s code enforcement division that their RVs were in violation of zoning ordinances.
The complaint asks for a “permanent injunction barring the City from enforcing its RV Ban against Plaintiffs.”
Zoning laws in Sierra Vista allow RVs in manufactured home parks and any property zoned Recreation Vehicle Park. Cloud 9 Ranch Estates, where Root and the Montgomerys live, is a manufactured home subdivision. A section of the neighborhood is a manufactured home park, said attorney Paul Avelar, but that section is more expensive and in a less-desirable area of the community.
Root 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 meanwhile, own their RV, but rent the land, Avelar said.
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.
“I built this place up from the ashes, literally,” the 65-year-old Root said. “I’ve looked at different options and there’s nothing out there that I can afford.
“Why would I go somewhere else when I own this property? I don’t want to leave, I really don’t.”
The Montgomerys, both in their 70s, agreed. Georgia Montgomery said her husband is not healthy enough to move the RV they own. She said they pay a very reasonable rent to their landlord, Al Parrish, and they can’t afford to move their RV to another rental property.
Both Root and the Montgomerys had been co-existing with their neighbors until July when another resident complained to the city about the RVs. That’s when they receive the notice from the city’s code enforcement division. Prior to that Root had lived undisturbed in her RV since 2016 and the Montgomerys had lived in theirs since 2014.
Initially, the city told them they had to leave within 30 days. That changed when Root contacted the Institute for Justice and held a press conference in front of her home.
“Amanda’s current home is the only living situation she can afford. If she was forced to move, she would be homeless,” the lawsuit states.
The city’s Planning & Zoning Commission recommended against allowing the RVs to stay at Cloud 9, as did the city’s community development division. Last week, the Sierra Vista City Council voted unanimously to have the RVs removed. Community Development staff explained to council members that a requested amendment to the zoning ordinance by Root 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 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; and 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.”
Avelar, of the Institute for Justice, said the city’s decision to oust the RVs from Cloud 9 is cruel.
While the city has not yet been served with the lawsuit, a spokesman said Tuesday that officials can’t comment on “issues that may arise in the litigation.”