COLUMBIA — In a surprise move, Columbia Regency mobile home park notified residents by mail Saturday and by hand Monday that the park will close Feb. 29.
The closing of the park is the latest in a long line of unexpected events in the story of the mobile home park. Regency filed a request with the city to rezone the land in August, which residents only found out about through legal notices published in September. Along with the request to rezone the property, Aspen Heights, a company that builds student apartments, submitted plans to build apartments on land currently occupied by Regency.
Charlie Vatterott, executive vice president of development for Aspen Heights, said at the Planning and Zoning Commission vote Sept. 22 that the company would only buy the park if it were zoned for apartment housing.
The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the City Council reject the rezoning due to reasons that dealt with both the proposed number of people living in the complex and the fact that closure of the park would effectively evict trailer park residents from their homes.
An amendment was added by Aspen Heights to the request the week before it was due to go before the City Council that would give residents six months instead of the mandated four months to move after the park closing notice, and a $1,200-per-trailer relocation fund. On Oct. 17, when the request went before City Council, it was tabled at request of the buyer.
An ordinance to require 180 days notice to tenants in all cases of a mobile home park or apartment complex closing was introduced and first read at the Oct. 17 meeting.
The rezoning request and plans for the Aspen Heights development are planned to go before the City Council again Monday, Nov. 21.
Michael Carney, an attorney with Mid-Missouri Legal Services, said the park's closure appears to take the issue of dislocating residents out of the city's hands.
After the news of the closing notice broke Tuesday, a media circus from various local outlets took over the front of the trailer park.
Toward the back, a group of residents sat in lawn chairs amid falling leaves and drank cans of Keystone Ice as they tried to find humor in the situation. They loudly declared that they were evicted, the little girl walking past was evicted and they could all do whatever they wanted because they were evicted.
Resident Deron Todd said he's going to enjoy his time left at the park, because it's over. He plans to move his trailer next month. His daughter Senobbia Tucker was also among those outside, and he said she'll be able to move out as well.
Mary Kelley, another resident in the circle, said that she has $125 left to pay until she owns the mobile home she lives in. She plans to pay that off and become the official owner of the faded brown trailer, but once she does, she isn't sure how she'll move it. The day after she helped show the park to councilwomen Barbara Hoppe and Helen Anthony, she lost her job for taking off work.
Kelley wants to get out of Columbia because she's fed up with the drama surrounding the mobile home park.
Hoppe, who represents the Sixth Ward where the park is located, said it isn't a given that the council will approve the rezoning even with the closure notices already distributed.
"I, personally, would hate to reward a bad actor," she said.
She said she is looking for ways to keep the zoning as designated for manufactured homes, and to see if a buyer can be found, who would continue to operate a mobile home park on the premises. She also said she is looking for ways to give residents an extension on how long they would have until they would have to move out.
Hoppe said she has been meeting with the Columbia Housing Authority and said "it's clear we don't have enough affordable housing for that many residents."
She called the displacement of this many tenants a "crisis" for both them and the city.
Carney is working with some tenants of the park through Mid-Missouri Legal Services, which provides free legal services to those who qualify financially. He said the notice is from Columbia Regency, not Aspen Heights, and Aspen Heights could pull out of the deal and the closure would still go into effect.
"It's not a good situation," Carney said. He said tenants still need to pay rent or they could be evicted, and leases that extend beyond the given period of time would have to be honored.
So far, Carney has not seen such a lease, though one was mentioned when he met with residents after they learned of the rezoning request.