Trailer park residents surprised by evictions
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
February 28, 2011 · Updated 7:08 AM
Despite promises to the contrary, residents of Oak Harbor’s Windmill Court mobile home park will need to find new places to live by the end of next month to make way for a new apartment complex off Swantown Avenue.
On Feb. 3, the park’s Bellevue-based property manager sent tenants a three-sentence notice that said they had until March 31 to clear out due to the “upcoming development of the property.” While most had been told long before that they would eventually receive such a notice, for one small handful of residents the news was quite a shock.
About six families had been told that they would be able live on the site during construction and had even moved to one side of the park at the direction of the park’s owner, Bellevue-based developer Nat Franklin.
“It was conveyed that we were completely safe; that’s why we moved,” said Dustin Amundson, a park resident for over two years.
Franklin could not be reached for comment despite several messages left at his office.
Dubbed Franklin Manor, the 5.6-acre lot will see the construction of 158 units in four four-story buildings. The development was expected to be phased with only the first building and the footprint of the second building being initially constructed.
The idea was to pace construction with occupancy. Once the first building was built and full of new tenants, the second building would be completed and so on.
In a Whidbey News-Times story this past October, Franklin said this plan would allow some of the existing tenants to remain on the site. Although they had to move to manufactured homes located on one side of the property, they would be able to live there during construction and then move into the new apartment complex once it was finished.
Norm Brinker, a retired Air Force serviceman who has lived at the park with his wife for over two years, was one of those who accepted the offer. Packing up their stuff, they moved into a new unit several months ago. But while they are once again having to pack up their stuff, Brinker said he’s not too upset.
“Giving him (Franklin) credit, I don’t think he had any other choice,” he said.
In a tenant meeting shortly after receiving their eviction notice, Brinker said it was explained that the change of plans was largely due to the park’s antiquated water system. It currently draws from a well but would have been hooked up to the city’s system once construction began. Tenants were told that the old pipes would not be able to handle the pressure.
Brinker said it’s an understandable problem, and residents are more frustrated with the situation than the developer himself. However, he said the constant change in plans is nothing new.
After receiving the eviction notice, Brinker claims tenants were told they would be reimbursed their February and March rent, as well as get back their deposits. A short time later, they were told they would only be getting back March’s rent and their deposit.
“That’s where people got mad because he kept changing the story,” Brinker said.
Others are more frustrated.
Amundson also took the offer to stay and moved into another more expensive unit. But despite paying a higher rent for several months, he’s still out of a place to live.
“I could have stayed in the same location and been paying the same rent and been in the same situation,” Amundson said.
He’s made several inquiries about getting reimbursed for the extra rent money but has been repeatedly refused. Amundson said he’s considering consulting legal counsel and plans to bring up the issue at the next Oak Harbor City Council meeting.
There may be little the city can do, however. Oak Harbor Development Services Director Steve Powers said this was a verbal agreement between Franklin and the residents that is beyond the city’s scope of authority.
“It’s a landlord-tenant situation,” Powers said. “There really is no role for the city in this.”
As of Thursday, Feb. 24, building permits had not yet been issued.
According to Powers, Franklin still needs to submit two recorded documents and pay his permit fees before the city will give him the final go ahead to break ground.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Justin Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-675-6611 ext. 5054.