El Ray Mobile Home Park in violation of public nuisance ordinance

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 | 4:52 p.m. CST; updated 5:07 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 13, 2011
From left to right, Connie Sanders, Dennis Bisans and Tom Johnson remove the last post from their friend's shed Monday in El Ray Mobile Home Park. The owner, whom neighbors call "Grandpa," sold his boat and other items to pay for his recent move out of the trailer park.

COLUMBIA — The condition of El Ray Mobile Home Park is a nuisance. The Boone County Commission determined at its weekly meeting Tuesday morning that large piles of debris, trash and tires at El Ray were in violation of the county's public nuisance ordinance. 

Kristine Vellema, a senior environmental health specialist at the Public Health and Human Services Department, said the Health Department has received multiple complaints about the property since October.

El Ray is owned by Whirlwind Properties, which is co-owned and managed by attorney Ron Netemeyer. 

Vellema, who inspected the property on Mexico Gravel Road Tuesday morning, said the conditions have remained virtually unchanged the past couple of months.

The Health Department will start steering efforts to clean up the violations in the next couple weeks, Vellema said. Cleanup costs and administrative fees will then be charged to Whirlwind Properties in a tax bill.

El Ray Mobile Home Park is set to close March 1 because, as its closure notice stated, "the (sewer) lagoon on the property can no longer sustain the park." The Missouri Department of Natural Resources since 2008 has repeatedly cited Whirlwind for failing to keep the sewer lagoon in compliance with state regulations.

When residents were notified of the park's impending closure in October, Netemeyer offered them the opportunity to relocate to either Sunset or Ed's mobile home parks, both on Lenoir Street and also owned by Whirlwind Properties. Netemeyer said in the notice of closure that residents who choose to relocate to one of the parks will have lot rents and pad fees waived for the first three months.

Sunset and Ed's were annexed by the city of Columbia and rezoned for commercial use in 2007, but Netemeyer said at the time that he had no plans to close the parks.

Several men have been working for Netemeyer to clean up El Ray since last week, tearing down vacant mobile homes and burning trash. One of the workers, Jamie Winingear, said Monday that his job was simply to "clean up."

Rick Huffman, who lives at El Ray, said about six mobile homes have already been moved out of the park. As of Monday, 17 homes remained, but some have been abandoned or are waiting to be moved. Huffman guessed that half a dozen families still live at El Ray.

Nine people, including El Ray residents, a Columbia Regency resident and Mary Hussmann of Grass Roots Organizing, spoke on behalf of El Ray residents at the commission meeting. 

Victoria Baker, who said she's lived at El Ray for eight years, called the park's closure "devastating." With Christmas nearing, property taxes due in a few weeks and winter weather worsening, Baker said the closure is a heavy burden on residents.

Although residents were upset they would have to move, several people also complained about Netemeyer's management style and neglect of the property.

Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller told those who spoke at the hearing that the commission is powerless to stop the park's closure.

"There is nothing that we can do that we haven't already tried to do," Miller said. 

The commission previously asked in a letter that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources extend the sewer lagoon permit at El Ray in hopes Netemeyer would keep the park open until June 1. Netemeyer, however, said he would close the park March 1, regardless of the permit.

Joan Wilcox, who is not a resident at El Ray, testified at the hearing. "We need permanent, affordable housing for the people of Columbia and Boone County," she said. 

Hussmann urged the commission to consider mandating yearly surprise inspections of mobile home parks in Boone County. 

"Good and responsible owners and residents will be tempted to neglect standards if we don't reward them by holding all the parks to a certain standard and oversight," Hussman said.

The Missourian was unable to reach Netemeyer for comment.

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