York County tells family they can build home, then they can’t – after it’s built

adouglas@heraldonline.comJune 19, 2013 

  • More information “I feel guilty about it, as a county councilman, that we would mislead somebody to do something that we don’t let people do,” Chappell said. In 20 years in office, Chappell said, he has never seen a case like the Wilmores’, calling the situation “ridiculous.” If the council chooses not to rezone the land, he said, the county should pay some of the moving costs to relocate a mobile home that already has been built. “We’re responsible for some of the expenses, from a moral standpoint,” Chappell said. “I don’t know about the law. The law and my moral convictions don’t match a lot of times.” Kendree cautioned council members against admitting liability for the wrongfully issued permit. “The reliance upon someone calling a county facility and obtaining information does not necessarily rise to the level of culpability on the part of the county,” he said during the meeting. “By virtue of making a phone call does not necessarily mean the county is culpable for the actions of the business that’s seeking to obtain a permit to place a mobile home on a lot.” The county issued the $300 building permit on April 4. Chad Jones, the mobile home developer, brought the permit before the council two weeks ago, asking that the county rezone the land so the family can move in. The home sits on about a quarter-acre of land. A mobile home once sat on the property, county officials have said, but it has been gone for too long to “grandfather in” the Wilmores’ home. Jones said he checked the zoning information with York County before selling the Wilmores their home. County officials told him he could put a mobile home on the land but that he would need to use brick underpinning instead of vinyl, Jones said. The developer made the change to the Wilmores’ order and sold them their home. Their first mortgage payment was due at the beginning of June. “We were issued a permit; we did the work,” Jones told the council. “I’m sorry that the county made a mistake in issuing the permit, but this customer has put down a good sum of money to secure this mortgage. “They can’t live in the home because we can’t get a (certificate of occupancy), but it’s not the customer’s fault nor my fault...I could go get the home (and move it to another location), but it would be fairly expensive.” The Wilmores’ neighbor, Tracy Ferguson, told the council he’s opposed to the rezoning request. It’s nothing personal against the family, he said, but the county’s rules should be applied equally.
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— A York family is waiting to find out whether they can move into their new home after York County officials first told them they could build it, then, once it was finished, said they couldn’t.

Marlon and Lou Kisha Wilmore and their daughter can’t live in the home on Longleaf Road just west of York until they get a certificate of occupancy – something county officials have said they can’t have until their land is properly zoned to allow for a mobile home.

On Monday, the York County Council may vote on whether to rezone the Wilmores’ property, which the family has owned for about 40 years. The Wilmores declined to comment until after the meeting.

The council voted two weeks ago to delay making a decision on the matter after the Councilman Joe Cox – in whose district the Wilmores’ home rests – advocated for rejecting the proposed rezoning.

He said the land shouldn’t be rezoned to protect property values should someone develop the land surrounding the Wilmores’ property.

Cox also said there’s not enough space between the mobile home and two others nearby to accommodate well water and septic tanks.

County attorney Michael Kendree met with the council behind closed doors during the June 3 meeting after two councilmen said the county is liable for mistakenly giving the Wilmores a building permit.

Curwood Chappell said county officials made a mistake and needs to do the right thing by the Wilmore family.

Ferguson and his family own about 200 acres of beef cattle farmland surrounding the Wilmores’ mobile home.

It’s not the Wilmores’ fault that the county erroneously issued a building permit, Ferguson said, but he, too, needs to protect his investment.

As a developer, Ferguson said, he’s always expected to follow building and zoning rules.

“It’s just an example of the county making all these rules and not enforcing them,” he said. “I don’t think I should have to be the victim to this.”

Cox agrees with Ferguson and says the county shouldn’t make more mistakes in the rezoning case than it already has.

York County failed to issue a “stop order” in time to halt construction of the home after the permit mistake was discovered, Ferguson and Cox said.

To try to fix the mistakes by rezoning the land now isn’t the right thing to do, Cox said.

“I don’t believe that two mistakes make it right,” he said.

Ferguson said he called York County offices to notify them that a mobile home was under construction on land not zoned for a mobile home.

The house was nearly put together when he made the call, he said, and someone at the county told Ferguson a stop order would be issued.

By the time county officials issued a stop order, it was too late.

By the time he learned of the situation, there was no work to stop, said David Pettine, director of the county planning and development services department.

Ferguson said he realizes county employees have a difficult job, but the county should enforce its own laws.

Somehow, “the county should do the right thing” by the Wilmore family, he said, but rezoning the land because it issued a wrongful permit is not the answer.

The mistake happened due to an oversight in the planning and development office, Pettine said.

Determining whether land is zoned appropriately is “typically one of the first steps of the permitting process and it also can be verified at several points throughout the permitting process,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it was missed throughout, and the permit was issued in error.”

The county employees responsible for the mistake were forced to take time off without pay, Chappell and others said during the council meeting.

When asked later by The Herald, both Pettine and Assistant County Manager David Larson declined to say how many employees were punished and how many work days they missed.

Council Chairman Britt Blackwell told The Herald he didn’t see any issue with the public’s knowing how the county responded to the mistake.

Blackwell and Councilman Bump Roddey both said that if they knew the information, they would share it.

Blackwell said he trusts that the county’s management team took the appropriate action as a result of the mistake, and he tries not to meddle in their dealings with staff.

“We’re not perfect – no one is,” Larson said of the permit mistake.

But, disciplinary action was taken, he said, and the process has been adjusted to prevent the mistake from occurring again.

The mistake has led to an “unfortunate challenge” before the council which has no precedent he can remember, he said. The fact there is no precedent for the council to follow perhaps shows the rarity of these types of errors, he said.

During the June 3 meeting, Roddey said York County should consider footing the bill for moving costs if the council rejects the family’s rezoning proposal.

Cox told The Herald some help should be given to the Wilmores if they have to move their home.

Even if it takes 10 years, Cox said, the money should be paid from the planning and services department budget because that’s where the error originated.

More training for staff might be needed to ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again, he said.

Councilmen Michael Johnson and Chad Williams did not comment on whether the land should be rezoned, but Johnson seconded Cox’ motion to deny the rezoning.

“Freak things” can happen, Councilman Bruce Henderson said, adding that he wanted to explore what could be done to rectify the situation with the family and their mobile home.

Blackwell agreed with Henderson that something should be done, “morally.”

“I would certainly agree,” Blackwell said, “that...maybe not legally, but morally, I think we have an obligation.”

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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