Residents oppose project

Mobile homeowners against River Walk are likely to be displaced

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The 39 mobile homes threatened to be displaced by the proposed River Walk project were as much a part of Thursday's City Planning Commission discussion as the plan for about 50 new residential units and commercial and retail space.

In the first public hearing on the project proposed for the land where Westland Trailer Park stands, mobile homeowners expressed worry about where they could go once they were forced out of the park, which sits between Yampa and Lincoln avenues between Third and Fourth streets.

The pre-application hearing lasted three hours with more than an hour going to public comment. More than 40 people attended Thursday's meeting, which erupted in clapping as residents spoke against the plan.

"Most of us living in the trailer park don't really live there because we choose to," resident Stewart Lynn said. "We would much rather live on Yahmonite Street, or in the Sanctuary or Angler's Retreat. We can't afford to qualify for those homes because we are working two to three jobs just to get through the day."

Mark Freirich, a lawyer representing a mobile-home owner at the trailer park, called the 30-year-old park a close-knit community of about 150 people and said it was comprised of taxi drivers, waitresses, plumbers, carpenters, computer specialists, retailers, nurses and real estate agents.

Ben Franko, who has owned a mobile home in the park for four years, said that for many, a mobile home is a way to get a foot in the door and build equity to one day buy a larger home.

"That's over with, shattered," Franko said.

During his presentation to the council, Realtor Jim Cook, who is acting as the representative for a client who has a contract on the 3.5-acre parcel, said the plan would take advantage of 600 feet of frontage along the Yampa River and open up Spring Creek. It would expand the commercial and retail opportunities started with the Chieftain Building.

The proposal is for about 50 residential units -- about 30 apartments including live/work units and 17 larger townhomes on the north bank of the Yampa River. The plan showed retail and commercial spaces wrapping around the corner of Fourth Street.

The plan also included a path along the Yampa River that had the potential to connect to Dr. Rich Weiss Park.

Cook spoke to the displacement of the homeowners and said the city ordinance on mobile-home relocation does not go far enough. Part of his plan is to include a minimum of 10 percent of the units for purchase by people who work in or near Old Town and who make 80 percent or less of the median income.

Cook also said there are plans in the works for new developments that could accept the residents' mobile homes and would be an affordable housing option.

"We are trying very hard to work with all the individual tenants and homeowners," Cook said.

Many planning commissioners noted they could not judge the project beyond how it applies to the city development code and urged the mobile home residents to contact the owner to try to purchase the land themselves.

Planning Commissioner Dick Curtis said there is a moral issue to the plan that the board could not judge.

"I would like to see more of a component to get (the Westland residents) into a home and not just throw them out on the street," Curtis said. "We can't force the applicant to do that, but I think it should be his moral obligation."

Planning Commissioner Scott Myller said from what he had heard, there was not a lot of hope in how the mobile home relocation ordinance was going to work.

"I think they are going to have to make a hard decision: Is a mobile-home park the best use for a downtown riverfront property?" Myller said.

The Planning Commission did make comments outside of the fate of Westland Trailer Park. Concerns were expressed about the proposed architecture, which drew from downtown styles and materials.

Drawings for the buildings had varied rooflines, divided into components and had bright colors. Planning Commissioner Tracey Barnett called the architecture too busy and said it went outside her comfort level.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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