PARIS _ Mobile homes were described as both a blight and an affordable housing alternative by township residents at an informational meeting Thursday night.
The two-hour session was called by the Paris Zoning Commission to gather public opinions on the possible regulation of mobile homes. About 100 residents made a standing room only crowd at the Shearer Community Center in the township, located about 10 miles east of Ravenna.
The commission is in the final stages of revising the township zoning regulations, and has been asked to consider banning 14-foot-by-70-foot mobile homes, according to Township Trustee Dan Spicer who chaired the meeting.
Residents are divided on whether mobile homes are an esthetic and economic blight on the community, or whether they present a lower-cost housing alternative.
Residents complained that older, worn mobile homes are being funneled into Paris because other municipalities have strict regulations against them.
Several people noted that many mobile homes are as well-maintained as traditionally built homes. Others complained about trash-strewn yards and dilapidated trailers affecting the value of nearby properties.
But other residents countered that mobile homes can be as nicely maintained as a home.
"I can show you as many homes that look like trailers. You have to clean up your home, no matter who," said Tod Hamburg.
Complaints were aimed at several mobile homes that residents said were not on proper foundations, and were not connected to septic systems.
"They're using grocery bags in their toilets and then dumping them," Kathy Steele said. "How can people get away without a septic system, and with extension cords running from trailer to trailer?"
"It doesn't sound like we have a problem with trailers as much as we have a problem with zoning (enforcement)," another resident said.
Residents also questioned whether the township can legally ban mobile homes. Federal law says a municipality may not simply outlaw manufactured homes of all types if they meet standards set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Such HUD-certified modular homes are built to be placed on permanent foundations once they are transported to their final site.
However, Trustee Tom Smith said the Portage County prosecutor has said the township may ban homes which "are built to be mobile."
Smith said that a couple of the problems pointed out by residents are being worked on, and that one "is in the hands of the (Portage County) Prosecutor."
But, Smith said, the legal process is involved and can take months to run its course.
"We have a very good zoning officer who takes his job very seriously," Smith said. But he noted that Zoning Inspector Mark Irons needs signed complaints from adjoining property owners to present to the prosecutor for effective enforcement. Several people offered to sign complaints at the meeting.
Once zoning revisions are completed, they will be sent to the Portage County Regional Planning Commission for review and comment, and then a final draft presented to the township trustees for adoption. Changes would not affect trailers currently in the township.
Thursday's meeting was a revival of an issue first debated 20 years ago. Several residents noted township voters rejected a ban on mobile homes at that time.
Smith noted that no matter what action trustees take on the issue, residents can still bring the issue to the ballot through an appropriate petition.
"Ultimately, it is up to the voters," Smith said.