Columbia Regency residents remain uncertain about future of mobile home park

Friday, November 11, 2011 | 9:54 p.m. CST; updated 4:33 p.m. CST, Monday, November 14, 2011

CORRECTION: The first paragraph of this story has been updated to remove the implication that the pressure on the City Council was coming directly from Aspen Heights.

*A previous version of this story misspelled Mary Hussmann's name and included an incorrect transcription of her quote about why Grass Roots Organizing does not support the rezoning.

COLUMBIA — The closure of Columbia Regency mobile home park has put new pressure on the City Council before their Nov. 21 vote on the rezoning of the property.

If the council approves the rezoning, each trailer owner will receive $1,200 from Aspen Heights, the buyer, and an extra two months to move out. If the council rejects the rezoning, residents won't receive the money or the extra time, and they will possibly have to move out anyway.

Aspen Heights has stated that it won't buy the property unless it is rezoned for its intended use: student housing.

In August, Aspen Heights, a Texas-based development company, submitted a request to rezone the property and a development plan to the city. Aspen Heights learned of the park closing the same way tenants of Columbia Regency initially learned of the rezoning request: through the newspaper.

Charlie Vatterott, Aspen Height's vice president of development, said in an email Thursday that the company still intends to offer what he estimates as $125,000 to residents, in addition to the extra two months to move out of the park. Residents had previously been given a four-month deadline.

Aspen Heights' proposal was first introduced as an amendment to its development plan, which must be approved by the council in order for the developer to build student apartments on the property. The development plan and the rezoning request were tabled at the developers' request days after the amendment's introduction at the council's Oct. 17 meeting.

Vatterott said Aspen Heights asked for the votes to be postponed so the company could better explain the amendment's provisions. He said Aspen Heights had attempted to get Churchill Group, the owner of Columbia Regency, to help with the money for residents, but "to no avail."

Anne Boroff, a resident of the park, was happy to hear that the money and time would still be on the table. Ken Ingle, her boyfriend, said he'd have to see it first to believe it.

Cortez King, who lives across the street, said the money is "not even close" to what he needs to move his double-wide trailer. He has estimated it will cost $4,000 to $5,000 just to move, and there would be many other expenses. 

Residents first learned of the developers' proposed amendment Oct. 13, when Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe read parts of it in a tenant's driveway. Some voiced many of the same concerns; after listening to them, Hoppe said she didn't believe the money would be enough.

*Mary Hussmann, a representative from Grass Roots Organizing, said Friday that the organization does not support the rezoning because Aspen Heights "puts profits before people." When asked if she still held this opinion with Aspen Heights offering over $100,000 to residents, she said she wouldn't comment as she hadn't seen that to be fact.

Members of the City Council don't seem to have reached consensus on the issue.

Hoppe has said previously that she doesn't want to "reward a bad actor," Columbia Regency by allowing the rezoning to go through. She suggested that keeping the property zoned for manufactured homes could result in the property being sold to someone willing to run a mobile home park on the property. Hoppe could not be reached Friday for further comment on the subject.

Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said Friday that he sees the closing of the park and the rezoning as two separate issues. He disagreed that rezoning would amount to rewarding a bad actor, adding that he believes it makes good business sense for Columbia Regency to close because the company is losing money.

Kespohl said he would like the council to revisit the ordinance passed last week that provides six months notice, the last three months of which would be without rent, to residents in cases of future mobile home park closures.  

He said that forcing owners to go without income while continuing to pay water is unfair and that he had hoped Aspen Heights would "up the ante" on its proposal.

Kespohl plans to address the issue during the council's Nov. 21 meeting.

Mayor Bob McDavid said he hopes negotiations between Aspen Heights and residents will continue. He said that he thinks the vote could be tabled again if an agreement is not reached.

First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said Friday that he plans to consider the conflict between assuring the money and time for residents by rezoning the property and leaving open the possibility that they would be able to save their homes. He hasn't made up his mind yet.

Aspen Heights plans to meet with residents at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Columbia Regency clubhouse. Vatterott described the meeting as an attempt to hear the concerns of residents and make the situation clear to them in a less "tense" environment than the Council Chambers.

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Hannah Spaar November 12, 2011 | 12:33 a.m.

This is Hannah Spaar, the reporter on the story. I want to make it very clear that the lede at the top of the story right now ("The prospective buyers of the closed Columbia Regency mobile home park have put new pressure on the City Council in the run up to their Nov. 21 vote on the rezoning of the property.") is not the lede I wrote for the story. I do not by any means mean to assert that Aspen Heights is putting this pressure on the City Council intentionally. The conflict between the council faces on this is something I observed and First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt perceived as well. I hope this clears things up, and I hope we can have a more accurate revision up soon.

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