Trailer park may be sold

Hilltop appraised for possible listing

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— For the second time in three months, residents of an Old Town Steamboat Springs trailer park are confronted with the possibility of losing their homes and the equity they've built in them.

The 17 trailer owners in the Hilltop trailer park received written notice from their landlords last week informing them that the three-acre parcel was being appraised for a potential sale. In April, a dozen households in the nearby Trailer Haven park learned their property had sold, and in late May they learned they had a year to move their trailers.

"We were about to make a down payment on a lot in Silver Spur (Estates) and build our own home," said a sobbing Hilltop resident Donna Starbuck. "We've been building equity in our trailer for eight years, but it's 30 years old and I don't know if it can be moved."

Starbuck and her neighbors can take some comfort from the fact that the Regional Affordable Living Foundation has already stepped in to offer assistance. RALF Executive Director Rob Dick said Monday he learned of the situation Friday and has already begun looking for a lending source that might make it possible for the homeowners to purchase the park themselves.

Even if he succeeds, Dick's plan may not work out for Doug and Jane Reece. They had signed two contracts one to purchase a single-family home in Oak Creek, and the second to sell their mobile home in HIlltop when they learned the park might soon be for sale. Jane Reece said she's trying not to worry about their situation, but she didn't sleep much Sunday night either.

"It was really bad timing for us," Jane said. "We have eight days to try and get this resolved if we still want the house."

The Reece's purchased their mobile home for $22,000 four years ago, and were asking $31,500 to sell it. Now, the bank won't loan the money to the new owners until the fate of the trailer park is known. The sale of the trailer was set to close June 20, and the Reeces were to have closed their new home on June 26.

Marilyn Laisle, a Realtor working with Hilltop owners Leland and Ilagrace Harms, emphasized that the trailer park has not been listed for sale and no decision has been made to sell it. That decision will depend upon the results of the appraisal. The trailer park is located in the neighborhood of Conifer, East Maple and McKinley streets, immediately north of Steamboat Springs High School.

The Harms, who recently moved to Grand Junction, established the trailer park in 1959 and lived there for many years. They became close with many of the residents over the years. Starbuck called them dear friends and the nicest landlords anyone could have. Laisle, who lived in the trailer park for five years herself, said the Harms are like best friends to her. Because they are elderly, and both have had major surgery within the last year, she's worried that stress resulting from listing the trailer park for sale could be detrimental to their health.

"What they're doing is trying to prepare people as early as possible for what may happen," Laisle said. "I'm telling people don't panic at this time. The Harms really are trying to avoid hurting people as much as possible."

Hilltop Trailer Park actually totals 18 mobile homes. The 18th is the double-wide trailer the Harms moved there and lived in beginning in 1972. Except for the Harms' trailer, all of the trailers in the park are owner-occupied, Starbuck said.

Dick said the sale of trailer parks for possible redevelopment is becoming increasingly common in Colorado resort towns.

"The economics of trailer parks are interesting," Dick said. "You can purchase a mobile home for about 25 percent of the cost of a stick-built house, for the same square footage. They really do become economical housing. But it's the land under the trailer that appreciates, while the trailer depreciates."

Dick said he thinks the sale of existing trailer parks raises some ethical issues. If there isn't a legal requirement to give homeowners adequate time to make other plans, etiquette requires it, he said. He believes the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association will provide ample time in the case of the Trailer Haven owners, and he's hopeful things will work out for the Hilltop owners.

"I've talked to the owners and I've talked to the Realtor," Dick said. "Leland would like to work things out for the owners. My hope is we can come to terms."

Jane Reece says she doesn't feel any bad will toward the Harms. She and Doug were looking forward to the relative quiet of Oak Creek compared to Steamboat in general. But they also felt Hilltop was a nice place to live.

"This has been a great trailer park everyone's great," Jane Reece said. "We have group parties."

Dick has begun looking for a location for a new trailer park where the residents could own their lots. He predicts the biggest challenge will be getting a new park through the public planning process almost no one wants a trailer park in their own back yard.

That's one thing about trailer parks that has remained constant since 1959 then as now, mobile homeowners encounter NIMBY-ism.

Ilagrace Harms said she and her husband encountered a similar reaction when they first developed the trailer park in the late '50s.

"We started out with four trailers," Ilagrace recalled. "You don't know how hard it was to build the trailer park. "We had opposition like you wouldn't believe."

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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