Residents at Kennewick's Clover Leaf trailer park given short notice to vacate

By Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldApril 6, 2013 

The quaint riverfront trailer park that Asia Gregg has called home for most of her life has been overrun with heavy machinery and moving trucks during the past few weeks as developers prepare to build a new, modern neighborhood with condos and hotels.

Neatly folded eviction notices arrived last month at the Clover Leaf trailer park, giving Gregg and 35 other residents 30 days to move out of their homes on the Kennewick side of the blue bridge.

Residents said the short notice has created distress and financially handcuffed them as they look for another place to live. Most who spoke with the Herald said they have no idea where they will go and don't have enough time with the eviction notice to save money for a move.

"I don't have $2,000 for first and last month's rent," said Scott Cathcart, 51, who has lived at the park for eight years.

While the thought of leaving the park upsets the 25-year-old Gregg, who doesn't know where she will live next, she is more concerned about the well-being of the people who helped raise her.

"It's basically a big family down here," she said.

The trailer park is in the heart of 22 acres of land that BW Land LLC purchased for $3.02 million Feb. 15 from the Jesernig family. The limited liability development company -- headed by majority partner Steve West of Pasco and minority partners Jim Bullis of Kennewick and Corey Bitton of Pasco -- plans to turn the land into a hub of hotels, restaurants, condos and retail stores.

Residents said there have been rumors of the park selling for almost 30 years, but the first they heard of the sale to BW Land was a story in the Feb. 24 edition of the Herald. They thought they would have up to a year to move out, but were given the 30-day notice March 18.

Ishbel Dickens, executive director of the National Manufactured Home Owners Association, said BW Land is violating the rights of tenants who own their mobile homes under multiple sections of the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act.

Homeowners should be given 12 months notice before any changes are made to the park, and construction should stop immediately, Dickens said.

"I think they have some strong legal arguments that there should be no construction going on and they have a whole year before that can be started," she said.

"This is a huge public policy issue," she added. "What is the developer thinking? The developer thinks he can kick them out in 30 days? That's shocking."

Randy Chapman, vice president of the Washington Association of Manufactured Home Owners, said he will be coming to Kennewick in the next few weeks to advise tenants of their rights and assist them. Some tenants already have sought legal counsel.

Bullis refuted Dickens' assertion that his company is violating tenants' rights. The leases residents signed with the former owners, the Jesernig family, are month-to-month.

"Our attorney said we are bound by Washington state statute to honor the agreement signed by the owner and the tenant," Bullis said. "If there is something we are doing wrong, our attorney would have told us."

BW Land also has agreed not to collect back rent or the current month's rent from more than 10 residents so they can use that money to move, Bullis said.

A community on edge

Residents at the park claim BW Land has failed to communicate construction plans and created an unsafe environment to live. Water and power lines repeatedly have been broken, electricity bills have been raised without notification, dust constantly hovers in the air making it hard to breathe, holes fill the roads and sidewalks are torn up without notice.

"You just don't swarm in a residential area and tear everything out," said Nancy Mills-Crosby, who has lived at the park for 10 years. "There's a total lack of compassion or lack of humanity."

One of the most common complaints is construction crews driving fast through the park, which is home to a number of children.

"These people are completely out of control," Denny Collins said. "In my 18 years here I have never seen the likes of this. It's a goddamn joke."

David Allbritton, 25, who lived at the park for two years, is one of 14 residents who already has moved since the sale. He said Clover Leaf quickly turned from an enjoyable place to live to a community on edge as they watched BW Land begin to dismantle the park before their eyes.

"I realize people do what they do to make money, but they should think about us too because they are kicking us out of our homes," Allbritton said. "Yeah, it might be a trailer park, but that's where we live."

Most of all, people in the park say the friendly, family atmosphere Rudy Jesernig, who died in July 2011, created when he ran the park is gone.

"My dad would be sick," said Joyce Robinson, Rudy Jesernig's daughter, who wasn't in favor of selling the property to BW Land. She used to manage the park and still owns a couple of homes there. "This would literally make him sick. It's pretty heart wrenching. My dad would have never treated people this way."

'Going to be hard feelings'

Bullis agrees that BW Land has "ruffled some feathers" after buying the park, but he said that's to be expected as they ask people who have lived there for almost 40 years to move.

"Anytime you disrupt someone's livelihood there's going to be hard feelings," he said. "There is just no way to get around it."

BW Land never knowingly raised the electric bill, watches its speed in the park and has gone out of its way to help people as they relocate, even contacting the Department of Commerce for financial assistance for residents, Bullis said.

"We're bending over backwards helping people to move," he said.

As far as the construction complaints go, Bullis said the crews are in compliance with Benton Clean Air Agency regulations and try to accommodate residents the best they can as they work.

Bullis is working with tenants who can't be out by April 30, he said. He expects everybody to be fully out of the park by the end of May and to potentially break ground on the first new building next spring.

Minority partner Corey Bitton said people around town are supportive of what the future holds for the area.

"There's five people a day that come through here and shake our hand and say, 'Thank the Lord,' " he said.

Mobile home owner Brian Smith, whose daughter lives at the park with her family, said he is willing to work with BW Land, but he wants a reasonable amount of time or a fair offer on his home before he moves.

"We could do something in a year's time. Even if they make an offer on the house that's fair market value," he said. "People aren't looking to bleed them. We just want to be treated fairly."

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