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Council takes no action on modular homes

By Staff | Oct 20, 2015

Cape Coral City Council will stay out of the brouhaha over allowing modular homes to be constructed in Cape Coral – at least for now.

The discussion before council at Monday night’s meeting at City Hall ended with council deciding to take a wait-and-see approach while continuing to seek more definitive information.

From the conspicuous group of about 30 people wearing red shirts came three basic objections to modular homes – lower property values, difficulties in financing and difficulties in obtaining insurance.

The home in question is located on Kismet Parkway just east of Santa Barbara Boulevard. It is 60 percent completed, according to Gold Key Homes president Pat Hutton. Modular construction is being objected to by a group of supporters calling themselves Cape Coral Residents Against Modular Homes.

Council’s decision denied Councilmember Richard Leon’s request to put the regulation of modular homes on the city’s legislative agenda for this year.

“I think the proper time for this discussion is after the home is completed,” said Councilmember Rana Erbrick. “I’m willing to wait and see what it looks like when it’s finished. So, I’m a no on legislation for this year.”

Leon’s request would have started a legislative process to change the state law allowing modular homes throughout Florida – as long as they meet all hurricane and state and local construction codes – and that also restricts local governments from regulating modular homes unlike they are allowed to do for manufactured (mobile) homes.

“Laws sometimes need to be changed,” said one speaker before council. “No one wants to live next door to them. It will affect home values. I think the city should issue a moratorium and go against the state, even though it would mean facing lawsuits.”

One speaker added, the limited financing options for modular homes means buyers would rely on private financing. It also could open the door for predatory loans with exorbitant percentage rates.

Another claimed that modular homes are not widely accepted in all parts of Florida and should not be allowed in the Cape.

Councilmember Jim Burch brought up the subject of creating architectural design standards for modular homes.

Mayor Marni Sawicki replied, “I’m not into design standards because whatever you create the modulars can match it and they’re still modular homes. That would add a layer of government I’m not comfortable with. I’m also opposed to putting it on the legislative agenda for this year.”

Councilmember Derrick Donnell asked that the body get more guidance.

“Let’s not be reactionary. We shouldn’t judge the situation by looking at a photo of an unfinished home,” he said.

“I’ve seen some bad CBC (concrete block construction) home designs around, too,” said Councilmember Rick Williams. “I agree with not putting it on the legislative agenda for this year.”

Council’s general sentiment on the issue was clear.

“Do we need more information? Sure, and answers. I just want to start the discussion,” said Leon.

Hutton, whose company is building the modular home, had his three minutes at the microphone. He pointed out the homes qualify for all the same financing and insurance as traditional homes. It meets all guidelines and codes, is more energy efficient and is built with high quality materials. He maintained that his homes will enhance the neighborhood rather than lower property values.

Other council items

MobileMax Technologies, based in Taiwan, is coming to Cape Coral to launch its expansion into the U.S. market. The company manufactures GPS equipment, cell phones and other high-tech devices, but for now is focusing its U.S. effort in the GPS market.

Economic Director Dana Brunett asked council to approve an incentive program with MobileMax awarding it $1,500 for every job it creates in the city. Council unanimously approved the incentive program.

At first, MobileMax will lease space in the city to launch its business and establish the first few jobs, most of them higher paying positions. If the company is successful, it could build a manufacturing facility in the Cape within two to three years that would create 200 manufacturing jobs here.

Council also approved capital spending of $15 million this fiscal year to start replacing its aging fleet of fire, police and other vehicles, equipment and maintenance. The funds come from a number of department sources as well as the general fund. That amount breaks down to $5.2 million for equipment, $7.6 million on vehicles and $2.4 million on infrastructure maintenance.

Council approved staff’s proposal to refinance up to $55 million in bond debt created in 2006 with the utilities expansion project phases known as Southeast 1, Southwest 1, 2 and 3, and Pine Island Road. The refinancing will save taxpayers $2.4 million.

The firm serving as actuary for the city’s three union pension plans reported to council that the plans have improved their overall funding from 56 percent in 2010 to 78 percent funded for fiscal year 2014. At the current rate of improvement at about 7 percent a year, by 2020 the firm projects the pensions would be 98 percent funded overall.

Changes made in recent years to the city funding and employee contribution percentages is credited with the pension improvements.

The next regular City Council meeting is next Monday, Oct. 26, at City Hall.