It was an unusual night of high drama and high ideals as Spokane County commissioners took testimony Tuesday on a proposal that would allow singlewide manufactured homes in any residential neighborhood in the unincorporated area.
The three-hour debate ran the gamut from property rights to civil rights.
The outcome was predictable as commissioners Steve Hasson and Skip Chilberg have made no secret of their desire to adopt the proposal, which will have its biggest impact in the Valley and on the North Side.
The two have said it will promote affordable housing opportunities and eliminate what they called discrimination against low-income homeowners.
The measure passed on a 2-1 vote, with commissioner Phil Harris dissenting.
Former regulations restricted single-wides to rural areas or manufactured home parks only.
A lot of people living in single-wide mobile homes in Spokane County today have to live way out, away from urban centers and other neighborhoods, Chilberg said.
“Out of sight and out of mind,” as Hasson put it.
But the public hearing was required, as commissioners sought to ignore a recommendation from the planning commission to leave current restrictions in place, a move supported by Commissioner Phil Harris.
Although more than a half dozen people addressed the board, it was two Spokane Valley women who ultimately defined, and reflected, the divergent sides of the issue.
Crystal Clark, who was smartly dressed in a dark suit and impeccably prepared, spoke against the measure. Jayn Courchaine, dressed casually in a T-shirt and sweat pants and speaking impromptu, made the case for it.
Clark, who has studied the issue for several years, referenced court decisions, building codes, safety studies, government reports and other sources in making her point why singlewide manufactured homes should continue to be restricted from certain zones.
She rejected the affordable housing argument, saying many double-wides are close to the same price, and said single-wides hurt property values when they’re erected in existing neighborhoods.
“Single-wides, no matter how you cut it, do not look like (traditional) homes,” she said.
Clark, who has sued the county over its implementation of current mobile home regulations, accused Hasson and Chilberg of throwing the hard work of herself and the planning commission “into the garbage” and making a decision based solely on emotion.
“The only thing that I’m getting from you is opinion. Personal opinion,” she said during one particularly tense exchange with Hasson. “I’m offering fact.”
Courchaine was less prepared, less passionate and talked far less, but her argument was no less persuasive.
The woman who has owned 15 mobile homes in her life said she thought many of Clark’s and other opponents’ fears were unfounded.
“I don’t think anyone is going to go into a $300,000 neighborhood, buy some land and put one of these things up,” Courchaine said. “And if they did, it wouldn’t be too long before someone came along and gave them $350,000 for it and moved the thing out of there.”
The free market will take care of itself, she said.
“It’s going to be up to the judgment of the owners and the developers, and that’s where I think it belongs,” Courchaine said.
In the end, Hasson and Chilberg sided with Courchaine. It was apparent from the start that they would.
“Where you live and how you live … is not the business of county government,” Hasson said before the vote.