Trailer park turmoils turning out differently

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— The fate of two Old Town Steamboat Springs trailer parks continued to sound like "A Tale of Two Cities" this week. Residents in the Hilltop Trailer Park are looking forward to a tentative Sept. 22 closing on the land under their homes, while residents in Trailer Haven remain in limbo.

Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association purchased Trailer Haven for about $660,000 in June and informed the trailers' owners, who rent their spaces in the park, that they had until May 1, 2001, to remove their trailers. Health and Recreation's board of directors purchased the property as a possible site for future expansion.

City Manager Paul Hughes offered to provide mediation between the residents of Trailer Haven, on Oak Street, and the Health and Recreation board.

SSHRA board member and spokesman Stuart Handloff said Tuesday he has not sent a formal reply to Hughes, but the response is thanks, but no thanks.

"We certainly appreciate the city's offer. But we've had several meetings (with the trailer owners) and the meetings haven't been very productive," he said.

In the typical business model for trailer parks, the homeowners own the trailers, but not the ground they are parked on. Instead, they pay rent to a landlord. Residents of Trailer Haven pay $250 a month rent, but Health and Recreation doesn't want to be in the landlord business. The board of directors said it has unspecific plans to expand on the Trailer Haven site.

Handloff said it's his impression that a majority of the owners understand and agree that it's not a matter of if the 12 trailers have to move, but a matter of when. He added that the board is contemplating offering a month-to-month extension of a May 1, 2001, deadline to remove the trailers. That offer would be predicated on there being reason to believe efforts to find a new site for Trailer Haven are progressing.

"The board is willing to give some time. Not 10 years, but more than 10 months," Handloff said. "It's a possibility the board is strongly considering."

Rob Dick, director of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, has said he intends to stick by the Trailer Haven owners and will help them find an alternative site. Dick was unavailable to comment on his progress.

Handloff said the board is hopeful Dick will succeed in his effort.

Hughes' offer to arrange mediation was in response to a request from Trailer Haven resident Jan Phillips. Phillips said Tuesday that it is neither moral nor decent for the Health and Recreation board to cause the trailer owners to remove their trailers.

"I want this whole thing, if at all possible, to evolve peacefully," Phillips said. "At some point in time, they're going to have to do something."

Earlier this summer, Phillips had circulated a written parable that compared the board's plan to have the trailers owners remove their trailers to a sexual assault. He said at the time he felt he needed to make an extreme statement to get the community's attention.

Several Trailer Haven residents have said that even if they could find an opening for their homes, their trailers are too old to withstand the move.

Doug Lockwood and his wife, Nancy Preston, are hoping they'll be an exception. Lockwood said his 1994 model trailer is suitable for moving, but it isn't easy finding a site. Potential sites within the city are too expensive, and sites outside the city aren't zoned for trailers, he said.

There is more reason for optimism among residents at the Hilltop Trailer Park.

Like Trailer Haven, their park was poised for a sale. But they learned of the plans from owners Leland and Ilagrace Harms in time to seek the help of Dick and Karen Beauvais at the Regional Affordable Living Foundation.

Hilltop resident Donna Starbuck said she expects to learn on Friday if the anticipated closing on Sept. 22 is on schedule. She said she expects that after the sale goes through, each of the 17 owner occupants in Hilltop will acquire a one-seventeenth share of the equity in the real estate. Each owner could have a monthly payment of $300, comparable to the lot rent at some trailer parks in the area.

Starbuck said she was particularly impressed that all of the banks in Steamboat Springs are participating in financing the purchase.

"That's the amazing thing," Starbuck said. "All five banks are cooperating. Tom Hopp (at Wells Fargo) took the lead. He has been so wonderful to work with."

Hopp, who is Wells Fargo's community bank president of Steamboat Springs, confirmed that the five banks are contributing equally to the loan. The purchase price was about $675,000.

"Believe it or not, I was able to gather all five banks together in our boardroom with Rob and Karen and Donna and within an hour we came up with a plan. The reason it worked is because everyone wanted it to," Hopp said. "There are a few rewards in banking, and this is one of them."

Hopp said he can recall a time when there were three banks in town, and they all came together on a loan for a day-care facility and for the construction of the chamber building.

Starbuck said the trailer owners have formed a limited liability company to own the real estate. Although their properties won't be deed-restricted, the LLC will be founded on the philosophy of keeping the residences affordable. The covenants will require owner occupancy, she added.

"We have just been so blessed to know that we live in a community that believes in this and believes it's worth saving," Starbuck said.

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

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