Saturday, November 14, 2009

Another manufactured home park closure

Published June 30, 2006, in the Keizertimes

Faced with losing their homes, many residents of Berkshire Estates Manufactured Home Park felt they had nowhere to turn.

All pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears.

"It just felt like we had no one backing us up," said Terra Stull, a resident of Berkshire.

Getting involved from the outset didn't seem to matter.

In April, a sign was placed at the entrance to the manufactured home park notifying residents of a public hearing regarding the proposed land-use change. The change would allow the Berkshire owners to convert the park to a development of conventional single-family homesites, and the current residents would have to move their homes.

At the meeting, a throng of residents turned out to implore city hearings officer Jeff Litwak to decide against the land-use shift.

However, the hearing officer can decide such cases only on the uses allowed by the city's development codes. He can't base his rulings on any human impacts of a requested change.

Litwak addressed the residents' remarks in his final decision approving the land use revision.

"The hearings officer read each written comment and believes that the residents of manufactured home parks understandably feel unprotected by the requirements in the city's code for conversions of these parks," wrote Litwak. "The hearings officer recommends that the city of Keizer review its code requirements and the impacts on the residents of manufactured home parks."

Stull said that was the most frustrating part of the entire process.

"If this had been a moral issue, we would have won, but everything Derek L. Brown and associates did was perfectly legal," she said.

Derek L. Brown and Associates is the umbrella company that owns the park.

Stull and her family tried to get help from their mortgage company with moving expenses, but their negotiations went nowhere. They've since contacted an attorney and come to grips with declaring bankruptcy.

"It's the only option that we have left. We can't come up with the $15,000 needed to move by the end of January," she said.

So, what can be done?

Nate Brown, Keizer community development director, said the city tries to take a "hands off" approach when telling property owners what they can and cannot do.

"As long as the owners are abiding by the codes we set, we try not to get involved," said Brown.

In fact, many of the concerns raised had to do with contractual agreements between the park residents as renters and property owners, a limited-liability corporation.

Problems regarding the upkeep of the park topped the list, but some residents also chafed at paying $20,000 in fees to buy into the park only to have it pulled out from under their feet mere months after the contracts had been signed.

"Those are problems that need to be addressed in the courts, not at city hall," said Brown. "The owners may have acted inappropriately, but the city government is not the place to turn to rectify that situation."

Brown ceded that it may be possible for the city to take a more active role in notification when such applications appear on the horizon but, for the most part, the only records the city possesses telling them who lives there are the monthly utility bills.

Several Berkshire residents were upset at what they felt was a lack of notification from the city regarding the May hearing, but Brown stands by the city's requirements of posting a sign at the entrance of the park and publishing notices in the local papers.

"Word of the hearing did get out and people did show up," Brown said.

If there were any relief possible, it would have to come from the state Legislature.

Berkshire resident Art Heitz said he would like to see the Legislature require that park owners refund all or part of the park package fees if they decide to close the park.

"It would make them think twice about closing them, but it would also be an incentive to provide better upkeep to attract new residents and keep the parks profitable," Heitz said.

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