Our Voice: Kennewick's riverfront developers have opportunity to mend fences

May 24, 2013 

Cloverleaf Development

May 19, 2013 - Construction at the Clover Leaf trailer park, which is part of a larger plan to reshape a portion of Kennewick's riverfront, is on hold after developers learned eviction notices they handed out to residents affected by the project likely wouldn't hold up in court.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

The remaining tenants of the Clover Leaf trailer park now have a little more time to find a new home.

The residents received notice in March that they had 30 days to vacate. The land's new owner -- BW Land -- plans to build a waterfront destination of condos, hotels, restaurants and retail shops.

The riverside trailer park has been in place for decades and was certainly not the most eye-appealing use of prime land near the foot of the blue bridge. But home is where you hang your hat, and all tenants have a right to be treated fairly.

Right along with the unsettling eviction notices, BW Land came in with big equipment and started tearing down structures, ripping out trees and creating an unpleasant atmosphere surrounding the trailer park. We suggested a little more tact, at least while the legalities still were being sorted out.

According to some officials, BW land was violating several sections regarding tenant rights in the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord Tenant-Act.

We questioned whether trailer park tenants can be evicted with just 30 days' notice. In other recent park closures in Kennewick, tenants were given a full year to move. Because of the age and condition of many of the mobile homes, moving them is a challenge. It's difficult to find parks to take them on as well. Those challenges and others have resulted in state law that requires a year's notice of closure, rather than a standard 30 days.

BW Land initially thought it had a loophole with a clause in the leases with tenants that allowed for a 30-day eviction. But apparently a second legal opinion changed their tune.

New eviction notices have now been sent out advising residents of the sale and impending closure of the park and giving them a year to find a new places to live.

"It appeared to me that they didn't comply with the case law and recent statute," said Attorney Leland Kerr of Kerr Law Group, which is now representing BW Land group. "There were some provisions in them that are suspect."

Unfortunately, much of the damage can't be undone. Most residents packed up and left when the unpleasantness of living in a construction zone became too much. Only five have vowed to exercise all their options before vacating. And now they have more time to do just that.

We're hoping this reprieve gives all parties the chance to take a deep breath and find a more polite path forward.

Police have been called to mitigate conflicts between the land owners and the residents, something Kerr called "flare-ups."

Kerr said his directive is to negotiate with the tenants' attorneys to find them new housing elsewhere as soon as possible. Holding up the development is not in the best financial interest of his clients, and we can understand that.

At least they can work on the property outside the boundaries of the mobile home park. They have a big financial investment, and time is money and money is tight with projects on this scale.

But the tenants deserved fair treatment from the outset. The developers didn't set a good tone for the project with their aggressive tactics at the start. They have the chance now to do some damage control and make things right.

Kerr says the negotiations with tenants' attorneys are active, but the residents say they haven't been told that -- yet another question mark in this drama.

Communication is key to moving forward and getting relocation assistance for the tenants and keeping the project on track. It's probably going to cost the developers some money to get it done.

A dose of good community relations would be a valuable undertaking as well for this high-profile project. We think it's a worthwhile return on their investment.

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