Trailer-park dwellers squeezed out in Basalt
Basalt officials have declared that relocating families in two mobile home parks out of the flood path of the Roaring Fork River is one of their highest priorities for 2003.
But by the time the town government finds a way to achieve its goal, there might not be any homeowners left to relocate, a recent study suggests.
Low-income residents of the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park are steadily disappearing due to attrition, according to a report prepared for the town of Basalt by Janet Mitchell.
Sales at the adjacent Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park have all but ended and it faces an uncertain future because the lot rent is the highest in the Roaring Fork Valley, Mitchell wrote.
The two mobile home parks provide some of the most affordable housing remaining in Basalt. They are home for 90 families, many of them Latinos. When residents there are displaced, it is almost impossible for them to find housing that is as affordable and as close to jobs in Basalt, Snowmass Village and Aspen.
Owner snatches trailers
At the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park, owner Dick Downey is systematically buying trailers at a reduced rate when he backs the sellers into a corner, according to Mitchell’s May 2002 report to the town of Basalt.
“He is buying those mobile homes at a greatly reduced price because the sellers of those mobile homes cannot sell them on the free market,” Mitchell wrote. “The park management has been instructed by Dick Downey to tell all potential mobile home buyers and their banks, if they need a purchase money loan, that the park will be developed and all the mobile homes will be displaced in the near future.
“So, therefore, it is almost impossible for a mobile home owner to sell their mobile home other than to Dick Downey.”
Mitchell is a real estate agent and appraiser who is regarded as an expert in the local mobile home market. The town government hired her earlier this year for work unrelated to the two mobile home parks. As part of that job, she informed the town about conditions in the parks.
Mitchell’s records show that at least 14 of the 52 spaces in the mobile home park are owned by Downey or his companies. Several of the purchases were made between 1999 and 2001, after Downey stated his interest in redeveloping the trailer park.
Downey couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
Housing must be replaced
Downey has a long, contentious history with the governments of Basalt and, particularly, Pitkin County. The trailer park lies within unincorporated Pitkin and Eagle counties even though it is surrounded by Basalt. Of the 52 spaces, 39 are located in Pitkin County and 13 are in Eagle County.
Pitkin County forced Downey to limit rent increases to 3 percent annually in return for approvals he needed to operate the trailer park. Downey informed his tenants about two years ago that he intends to redevelop because finances of the park don’t work any more. Taxes are too high and rents are too limited, he claimed.
The town of Basalt supports redevelopment ? but only if the affordable housing is replaced and only if redevelopment keeps people and property out of harm’s way in case of a flood.
The Town Council passed an ordinance that requires developers to replace 100 percent of the affordable housing they displace with new projects.
Town attorney Jody Edwards said that ordinance would apply to Downey even if he buys all the trailers and vacates them. The ordinance says the affordable housing stock that existed as of Jan. 1, 1999, must be retained, so ownership isn’t the issue, Edwards said.
It would be more difficult to apply the ordinance to the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park because it is located outside the town. However, redevelopment would require annexation into Basalt, according to an agreement between Basalt and Pitkin County. Then the town would have leverage over Downey or a successor at the time of annexation, Edwards noted.
Town seeks alternatives
Even if Downey decides not to pursue redevelopment, town officials want to spur redevelopment of both the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park and the Pan and Fork.
A River Master Plan completed by the town earlier this year determined the mobile home parks are in danger of catastrophic floods. Town staff and a citizens’ committee are seeking ways to acquire the mobile home parks and provide alternative housing for the residents.
That could mean providing new land where trailers could be relocated. However, it more likely means giving the trailer owners the first chance to rent or buy new affordable housing built off-site, said Mayor Rick Stevens.
He said it is possible the town could create public-private partnerships to redevelop the mobile home parks and replace the housing. If the mobile home park owners are unwilling to work with the town, condemnation would be an option, Stevens said. The town could then sell the property to a private-sector developer.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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