Our Voice: More tact by developers could have eased Clover Leaf trailer park evictions

April 16, 2013 

High-profile projects in the community make a big impact.

And how those projects are handled can affect public perceptions and acceptance in big ways.

Few current ventures have the visibility of the redevelopment of 22 acres surrounding the Clover Leaf trailer park along the banks of the river by the blue bridge in Kennewick.

The park has been at the foot of the bridge for decades, and while it may not be the prettiest site in the community, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the Clover Leaf has served as home to a number of grateful folks over the years.

Rumors of a potential sale had circulated for years, and a deal seemed inevitable given the aging trailer park's prime location near the waterfront.

That day finally came in February. Unfortunately, the park's tenants said they learned of the property's sale in the newspaper. That would have to be a little unsettling for any tenant.

Communication before the public announcement from the landlord would have been expected as a courtesy, especially when evictions were almost certain to be the next step. The 30-day eviction notices came March 18.

We are strong proponents of the rights of private property owners, and new owner BW Land LLC is surely entitled to clear the property and develop it into a riverfront showplace with condos, hotels, restaurants and shops.

We also are strong proponents of redevelopment efforts in Kennewick, particularly when it comes to the stretch of land between the blue bridge and the cable bridge. It is a prime chunk of real estate with loads of potential for Kennewick to finally see the kind of gentrification that has been discussed for years.

The improvements to Clover Island in the past few years, and the Port of Kennewick's deliberate acquisition of several key properties along Columbia Drive have been signs that change is finally coming.

The Port of Kennewick evicted tenants of a mobile home park it purchased but gave the residents adequate time to make new living arrangements. The port went above and beyond its obligations and purchased some of the structures to give owners a little cash to find a new home.

We are also strong proponents of treating people fairly. The Port of Kennewick did that, and one could argue that as a public agency, they are held to a higher standard. But there also are laws that apply to tenants of mobile home parks, in part because of the difficulty of relocating aging structures. Remember, in many cases these are people's homes, not just rentals. But they are tenants, not landowners.

Park closures were at their height in our state between 2006 and 2009, when 52 parks closed. That has slowed in recent years, probably because of the recession and the fact that many prime development spots already had been picked off.

The state does have a Relocation Assistance Fund, which can provide $7,500 to $12,000 in reimbursement for residents of parks that have been closed. Unfortunately, demand has outpaced need, and the Department of Commerce states, "We are unable to estimate how long the reimbursement process will take."

With its $3 million investment, BW Land LLC has big plans for the mobile home park and surrounding property, and seeing a flurry of activity at the site has many in the Tri-Cities buzzing about the potential development there.

But for those who have called it home, it's another story. They are living in an active demolition zone, with trees being removed, large construction equipment moving dirt and debris, homes being trucked away, dust in the air and utilities that have inadvertently been interrupted. All this while they try to figure out where they are going to live in the next few weeks.

The new landowners expect everyone to be out of the park by April 30 but concede it may be another month past that before it is fully vacated. The owners, who say they "are bending over backwards helping people to move," also have agreed not to collect April's rent or back rent for 10 residents. But many of the residents feel they haven't been given enough time. Or the least bit of courtesy.

Some argue that there are laws in place that require better treatment for those evicted from mobile home parks, but that's far from clear. We'll leave that to the attorneys to sort out.

In the meantime, we hope the new owners of the land communicate more effectively with the residents and have a little more consideration and compassion while folks are still living at the site. The community is watching, and we expect great things.

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