Trailer owners' buy offer accepted

Hilltop residents get help from RALF; now seeking financing for purchase

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— Residents of the Hilltop trailer park in Steamboat Springs won't lose their homes to redevelopment.

Rob Dick and Karen Beauvais of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation (RALF) confirmed late Friday afternoon that the offer from the 17 homeowners to purchase the land beneath their trailers has been accepted. Owners Leland and Ilagrace Harms signed the contract and Dick was carrying the documents by hand to each of the households. The transaction is scheduled to close in late August.

"Without a question of a doubt, we will secure financing," Beauvais said. "It's just high-fives all over. It's just great this is what we're here for."

Donna Starbuck, a Hilltop resident who has helped pull the neighborhood together, said the prospect that she and the other owners could stabilize the future of their housing makes a big difference in their lives. Starbuck runs a child-care business in her home and her husband, Cy, drives a truck.

"It's renewed my faith that my children can grow up with the children they've played with that we can make a future here," Starbuck said. "It may not be a mansion, but it's my mansion and we've worked hard on it."

Steamboat Today reported on June 13 that the Harmses were considering listing the trailer park for sale with Realtor Marilyn Laisle. The park is located on East Maple near Steamboat Springs High School. Coupled with the news that the Trailer Haven park on Oak Street had sold, the pending sale of Hilltop marked the second Old Town mobile home park to face potential redevelopment in two months. That could have added up to a loss of 29 affordable housing units.

Now, at least 17 of those homes have been saved. All of the trailers in Hilltop are owner-occupied and the residents come from various walks of life. Starbuck said there is an 82-year-old woman who has lived there for many years, four year-round employees of the ski area live in Hilltop, and the Harmses' son, Ernie, is among the residents. Ernie Harms will be a member of the Hilltop Group, Beauvais said.

Dick, as well as City Council President Kevin Bennett and Councilman Ken Brenner, attended a Hilltop residents meeting on June 23. Dick said he solicited ideas from the group and there was a consensus to try to purchase the land. Dick said Laisle also attended the meeting and told the residents that based on the recent appraisal, the asking price for the property is $675,000. She also indicated at that time that she had strong interest from several parties, Dick said. Beauvais confirmed Friday that there had been competing offers to purchase the trailer park. She estimated that it would have been possible to develop as many as nine quarter-acre lots on the 3.25-acre parcel, where internal roads are already in place.

Dick said the offers from the Hilltop owners matched the asking price. He added that the Harmses have offered a second mortgage on $100,000 at an interest rate of 9 percent for five years. Long-term financing for the purchase must still be arranged, but Dick sees positive signs that the financing can be accomplished at terms the owners can manage.

Dick said it would be rewarding to see the park residents successfully accomplish the purchase.

"It's a really great group of people," Dick said. "The vibes you get there it's a great community."

Starbuck, a 15-year resident of Hilltop, said she was impressed that Bennett and Brenner took the time to attend last week's neighborhood meeting. They were also contacted by council members Arianthtettner, Bud Romberg and Jim Engelken.

"It was nice to not feel like we were out there in an empty prairie with no support," Starbuck said. "Before, we felt that we didn't have a chance, that it was impossible we could buy the land."

Brenner said it was immediately apparent during the neighborhood meeting that all of the owners were of a similar mind and wanted to go forward with the purchase.

"This is actually an opportunity," Brenner said. "They'd never had a chance to take control of their future and improve their financial situation."

Dick said Beauvais, also a Realtor, is acting as the selling broker and wrote up the offer on behalf of the Hilltop residents. She will donate her $20,000 real estate commission back to the residents to be used for closing costs, legal fees and surveying expenses.

The Harmses, who live in Grand Junction, lived in the trailer park for many years. A number of the current residents have expressed their affection for the Harmses and said they do not resent their decision to sell the property.

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

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