Ordinance could end neighbors’ dispute
Elaine Shields says her neighbor could force her out of her home, while city officials are doing back flips to ensure she can stay.
Shields, 55, spends every night with her disabled husband, Mark, in a travel trailer on her mother’s property off of Carmine Street in Carson City.
The trailer is neatly stuffed with photographs of her youth, collectible dolls and cat food, beds and litter.
The couple say they’ve lived in much more desirable conditions, but this arrangement will have to do for now.
Mark Shields had a stroke in 2002 that prevents him from working, and Elaine Shields quit her job as a security guard for the state to care for him and her mother, Dolores McJunkin, 76, who has severe osteoporosis.
“It’s better than being homeless,” Elaine Shields said.
The couple is living on welfare – $600 per month for food, medications, car insurance payments and home maintenance.
Their travel trailer is not hooked up to the sewer so they use McJunkin’s home for all amenities, including the bathroom and kitchen.
This living situation worked just fine for five years, they say, until they started having problems with their next-door neighbor, Rebecca Beisenstein.
Beisenstein is a customer service technician for the city’s water utility department and made the news recently in her failed bid for Ward 2 Supervisor against Shelly Aldean.
Shields says after clashes between her husband and Beisenstein’s son, Beisenstein filed a complaint in September 2003 with the city that the trailer was a nuisance.
Beisenstein said she never liked the Shields’ arrangement from the moment they moved onto McJunkin’s property in 1998.
“I thought it was wrong that these people were camped out in the yard next to me,” Beisenstein said Thursday.
Her complaint said the Shields’ RV was blocking her view.
“Her view of what?” asked Elaine Shields Friday, standing on the strip of dirt on her side of the fence between properties. “Her view of my mother’s home?”
The Shields’ trailer is parked under McJunkin’s bedroom window. On the other side of the trailer is a fence. Beisenstein’s front porch is on the other side of the fence.
Code enforcement officer Alan Biddle responded to the complaint, inspected the trailer, and immediately called Aldean.
“(Biddle) was in a a bit of a conundrum because these people were in violation, but there was a need,” Aldean said.
Until 2000, city ordinances stipulated that anyone staying in caretaker quarters, including a RV, could stay as long as they needed on private property with a special-use permit, as long as the structure or mobile unit met health and safety standards.
But Carson City Community Development Director Walter Sullivan said the ordinance was simply never used, so it was removed from the city code in 2000.
That left Biddle and Aldean with their hands tied.
“We needed to do something,” Aldean said.
City staff drafted an ordinance this year that allowed people caring for the infirm to stay in guest quarters on private property for up to two years with a permit.
The Planning Commission approved the proposed ordinance last month then forwarded it to the Carson City Board of Supervisors.
Aldean was opposed to the two-year limit, and told staff to amend the ordinance to require annual submittal, in writing, of the results of an independent medical examination that proves the infirm person is in need of care.
That way, people with long-standing debilitating conditions don’t have to leave after two years.
“This is an option that’s more cost effective than living in a convalescent home or becoming a ward of the state,” Aldean said. “This is happening all over the country. It’s progressive, and I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
If the amended ordinance passes the city board Thursday, Shields can remain on her mother’s property.
Sullivan said as long as the Shields can prove they do not use their trailer’s bathroom, due to is disconnection from the city’s sewer system, they can live just as they have for six years.
“This has been a monumental good-will effort,” Sullivan said. “We’ve been working on this for a long time.”
Shields says she does not like the idea of having to prove, year after year, that her mother’s and husband’s conditions haven’t changed, but she’ll do what she has to do to stay off the streets.
“We covet our privacy,” Shields said. “This arrangement gives us our privacy.”
Contact reporter Robyn Moormeister at email@example.com or 881-1217.
the new ordinance
Section 18.05.030.1 of the Carson City Municipal Code would allow temporary occupancy of a self-contained travel trailer or recreational vehicle while providing a temporary living location for the infirm.
Applicants would have to provide annual documentation of the infirm person’s condition, along with other stipulations regarding the upkeep pf the guest quarters.
Call the Carson City Community Development Department at 887-2180 for a copy of the ordinance.