Time is up for Columbia Regency mobile home park

Thursday, May 31, 2012 | 11:11 p.m. CDT; updated 7:06 a.m. CDT, Friday, June 1, 2012
NOW: This photograph shows the interior of one of the mobile homes left behind in Columbia Regency mobile home park on Thursday. Some of the homes were either too old or in too poor condition to be moved into another park. Residents of the park were required to move out by April 30 or by Thursday if they had school-age children. Aspen Heights plans to build upscale college student housing in its place.

COLUMBIA — Columbia Regency mobile home park has turned out the lights and officially closed.

Residents with homes on the property were required to move by Friday, as stipulated by a rezoning request the Columbia City Council approved in November to make way for student apartments.

On Thursday, the entrance to the park was marked by a large white sign warning against trespassing, loitering and soliciting. 

Most of the property is now barren, though the skeletal remains of nearly 20 mobile homes are still on the property. These dilapidated, abandoned trailers, which for so long characterized the park, now have lot numbers painted on the side.

The rest of the homes have been removed, such as the white one with blue trim that belonged to Anne Boroff and her longtime boyfriend, Ken Ingle.

Also gone is the faded brown one belonging to Mary Kelley, who was in the last stages of paying it off when the park announced it was closing.

In the back of the park near where Kelley's trailer used to be, the shell of an empty mobile home lays partially in the street. Another home nearby has burned, its scorched metal twisting grotesquely toward the sky.

The end of Columbia Regency mobile home park was painfully recorded in City Council chambers, as well as the media. Park owners, who wanted to sell, were pitted against angry residents who wanted to stay.

The saga began in last fall when news first broke about plans to close the park and sell it to a Texas-based company looking to buy the property and develop it into student apartments.

The company, Aspen Heights, had plans to build 330 apartments with a total of 936 bedrooms. As of Thursday, however, Charlie Vatterott, the company's vice president of development, said the deal had not yet closed.

The parcel off Ponderosa Street in Columbia's Sixth Ward still belongs to Regency of Missouri, the operating name of a Colorado-based operation called the Churchill Group. 

The Churchill Group runs mobile home parks nationwide, many of which have closed under public scrutiny for improper management, according to a previous Missourian investigation.

Over time, Columbia Regency met the same fate. Abandoned trailers were left in the park; titles for mobile homes bought by residents went unaccounted for; and the living conditions of the park deteriorated.

Still, residents of the park did not go down without a fight. Initially, in September the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission voted against the apartment development. Members argued that the development would be too densely populated and would displace too many people with low incomes.

When it reached the City Council, residents had enlisted supporters who took a petition against rezoning to the council bearing more than 1,200 signatures.

As it made its way through the council, Regency of Missouri notified all residents that the park would close, regardless of the rezoning, effective March 1.

In November, the rezoning request passed after a three-hour public comment session during a council meeting.

It included payments of $2,300 to owners of single-wide trailers and $3,500 to owners of double-wide trailers in the park. It also extended the life of the park to April 30 for tenants without school-age children and to Thursday for tenants with school children.

On Thursday, Joe Kessinger and his dog, Abby, appeared to be the last residents to leave the park. Kessinger said he was leaving the home he lived in for six years to move into an apartment.

Although Vatterott said Aspen Heights is unaware of any people or animals remaining on the property, there has been ongoing concern about abandoned pets. Three cats were spotted during a visit Thursday.

A Columbia group — Spay, Neuter and Protect — has posted signs warning that poisoning cats is illegal. Organization member Peggy Gray said the signs were put up after reports that healthy-looking cats had been found dead in the park.

The group is also partnering with No Kill Columbia and Columbia Second Chance on what has been dubbed the Regency Cat Project, according to Christina McCullen, coordinator for Spay, Neuter and Protect.

The project involves catching and relocating cats from the park. McCullen said the group is also using humane traps to catch the cats.

"Our goal is to remove the cats from the construction site, which we think will be a good goal for all of us," McCullen said.

The three organizations have removed 15 of the 34 cats that have been seen, though McCullen assumes there are more.  Four have been adopted, one of which is being relocated to Indiana.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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