Gladewater council reluctant to open Pandora’s Container

The spectre of container homes on the shores of Lake Gladewater had council members itching for an on-the-fly adjustment of the city’s code of ordinances last week.
Ultimately (and after some healthy disagreement on the dais) the group opted to hand-off the wording of the code update to city staff members for council consideration soonest, aiming to further limit a range of manufactured housing options inside the city limits.
In the meantime, the elected officials generally agreed the community’s current permitting procedures can effectively pump the brakes on the purported property development.
The dialogue March 21 began with an East Lake Drive resident taking the podium to express concern about alleged plans for a neighboring plot of land. The debate escalated from there.
“It has come to my attention that the intention of the company is to build a home out of storage containers on this lot,” James St. John told the council. It would be a step backward, he said, after mobile homes that used to dot the shores (now banned there) have steadily been removed and replaced with high-end residences.
Notably, no one in attendance offered a defense of housing crafted from storage/shipping containers, nor were there any available designs or examples of container-housing in the public discussion.
Gladewater regulations do explicitly prohibit mobile homes on the lake, council member Teddy Sorrells noted, but the relevant language is incomplete. The night’s posted agenda gave the council leeway to change the necessary definitions, Sorrells contended, a relatively simple change if key points were included.
“It’s down from my house. They’ve got front-end loaders out there right now,” councilman Rocky Hawkins confirmed, asking if a cease-and-desist order could halt further development for now.
“A lot of what makes it beautiful out there is the variety of homes,” council member Kevin Clark said, agreeing an edit to the existing code to ban ‘container-like dwelling places’ and other ‘pre-fab’ structures would suffice. “Obviously, we’ve dealt with this before as a council. I thought we’d put it to bed, but apparently we have not.
“I think it would also be prudent that we address the initial problem that was brought to us and we serve notice to the developer that intends to build out there that we absolutely intend to stop them… Serve the notice now. Based on the two reports of people that live there, we’re a day late and a dollar short.”

Two East Texas cities have already banned container homes, according to City Clerk Judy Von Houten: “It’s done in the definitions primarily.”
The debate at the council’s monthly session for March soon encompassed container homes, mobile homes, manufactured homes and, briefly, modular homes, which fall into another category altogether.
Building Inspector Al Harrison cautioned the council about word choice in any amendment to the code. Legally, a ‘mobile home’ is just a ‘manufactured home’ built prior to 1972.
“We have the designation for manufactured homes, and we do have them prohibited in single-family (residential zoning),” he said. “So, you couldn’t just use the word ‘mobile homes,’ you have to include ‘manufactured homes’ and extend from there to include container-style buildings.”
Mayor Scott Owens was unwilling to advance the issue without taking time to draft a change and ponder on it.
“I want to the see the whole ordinance written out and make sure staff has time to review it and we have time to look it over before I vote to approve it,” he said. “I don’t want to rush through that.”
Council member Brandy Flanagan was hesitant to put it off.
“The ordinance can easily be amended to fix this situation and go ahead and include in our city limits,” she said.
“Literally, we are doing nothing,” Sorrells insisted. “Why’s it on the agenda?”

William Blackmon, a Live Oak resident, reminded the council a blanket ban on mobile, manufactured and modular buildings inside the city limits would affect Gladewater ISD standalone buildings as well.
“My assumption is that it’s a dwelling,” Sorrells replied. “We need to be clear what that looks like.”
As it relates to building codes, Harrison said, every opening, every alteration, every inch of a home has to be touched by a structural engineer for full compliance.
“They won’t pass anyways,” Clark suggested. “There’s no way a container can pass.”
Importantly, Gladewater Fire Chief Mike Simmons noted, the lake properties are owned by the city and leased to residents: “You can’t build on it without approval.”
Ultimately, Flanagan made a motion to direct city staff to update the ordinance for consideration at the council’s next meeting. Reading from her handwritten notes, she suggested “that we take out the language of modular home, that we expand the definition to include mobile homes, manufactured homes, containers and similar such structures that apply to residential dwellings inside the city limits and around the lake except for mobile home parks.”
Flanagan’s motion was seconded by Sorrells and unanimously-approved.
“This is what it’s supposed to be,” Owens told the audience after things quieted down. “We’re supposed to argue about stuff up here. We’re not supposed to agree about everything.”

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