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Annexation request sparks residents’ fears

Residents of a mobile home community off of Goldie Street filed into last Tuesday’s Oak Harbor City Council meeting trembling with fear of an unknown future and searching for the perfect combination of words to head off a proposed annexation.

Property owner and 30-year Oak Harbor resident Sean Byrne earlier in the year submitted annexation requests for two parcels in the areas of NE Goldie and Easy streets. Evergreen Park and its 21 tenants reside on a portion of the property.

Ten of the residents, representing neighbors physically unable to attend the meeting, beseeched the council members to either deny the application outright or postpone a decision. Once a request is turned down, it cannot be appealed.

Steve Powers, city development services director, said the property, totaling almost 14 acres, would be zoned planned industrial park.

Evergreen Park resident Gary Robinson was previously concerned only with an impending rent hike. He found out later the 12.5 percent increase could be a moot issue.

“We believe the owners have intended from the time of purchase of the property to develop the entire property, displacing all 21 tenant mobile home owners,” Robinson said last week.

The incensed resident said Byrne and his wife have never introduced themselves. A legal letter informing the tenants that their deposits were moved to another financial institution was reportedly the first opportunity for Robinson and his neighbors to learn the owners’ names.

The renters of the house located on Byrne’s small section of the property that lies within the city limits have also attempted to contact the owners by letter and by phone for more than a month, Robinson said, but to no avail.

Possibly the biggest slap in the face, the resident continued, was the shock of learning about the annexation proposal by happenstance.

“We were caught with our pants down,” Robinson said Friday. “We didn’t even know about this meeting until a couple days beforehand, and then only because someone here saw it in the agenda.”

Byrne said the property owners in the city’s proposed areas were contacted by letter and informed of the annexation application. The park residents are tenants and therefore did not receive the letter.

“Mr. Neumiller is drafting a letter on my behalf to explain to the tenants this is just the beginning of the annexation process,” the owner said. “We’re just trying to move the ball forward.”

The park’s demographics paint a bleak picture for the renters should Byrne’s future plans turn out to include closing Evergreen and serving residents the state-mandated, one-year eviction notice.

Of the 19 units, Robinson said all but two residents are single, five are over 80 years old and several are over 70. More than 45 percent of the tenants are either retired or ex-military.

“And six of us have no family and are totally dependent on ourselves,” he said. “With the increase in food and gas prices, one of our neighbors was forced to take a night shift job. She will be 70 years old this year.”

Although sympathetic to the rights of a landowner to make a profit, Robinson bemoaned Byrne’s unreceptive behavior that he said has created further stress-related problems in a community already wracked with serious health issues.

Cliff Howard, one of the Easy Street property owners, said there have already been “four or five annexation attempts” that included the land he has lived on since he was a year old.

“I just think it’s a shame. I’ve lived here all my life,” he said, adding that the land has already been rezoned in anticipation of future annexation. “That’s just unacceptable for Oak Harbor to do to the people.”

Howard said the landowners have been “looked over” during annexation proposals and treated as non-factors. Howard wrote in a lengthy letter to council members stating that the annexation and its amended, expanded area would be adversely affected by existing water supply issues, and run contrary to land use regulations cited in the Growth Management Act and city comprehensive plan.

“We request that the city take a long, hard look at this annexation as it is now presented to the city,” Howard wrote. “Please visit the neighborhood even if it just to drive through, pet our sheep, talk to the people that live here. Our concerns should be your concern as the outcome of your decisions will greatly affect the lives and well-being of the citizens that live here and the city of Oak Harbor far into the future.”

Byrne was unable to explain his plans at the meeting as he was in Eastern Washington caring for his ailing father.

Frightened Evergreen residents filed up to the podium one-by-one, issuing short, passionate pleas or simply voicing their opposition to the annexation.

Erin Hazelett, referred to the map on the overhead screen showing the amended area.

“That’s not a picture,” she said. “Those are people’s homes.”

The collective anger is an undertone of the fear that has spread through the mobile home park. For many of the residents, they are staring into the face of every senior citizen’s worst nightmare.

“We’ve been there for years and we don’t know what’s going on,” Flora Ayre said.

“The thought of having to move is very frightening,” added Bernadette Madrid, who has called Evergreen Park her home for 35 years. Two widows have each resided in the mobile home community for 38 years.

Should annexation occur, forcing the park tenants to vacate the property, residents will either have to move their home at their own expense or stretch a fixed income to its limit and personally finance the mobile home’s destruction.

“The option is not to sell your trailer, but to move on with your life,” said Jan Zumwalt, a relative of the famous Navy Adm. Elmo Zumwalt.

Resident Thom Buras is forming a tenant organization he hopes will be able to fill the legal requirement needed to purchase the property, which Byrne reportedly purchased in December. A newly-passed state law aimed at helping manufactured/mobile home communities survive, could help their cause.

Once the council was satisfied the next step would equate to more active, comprehensive dialogue and information for the residents and elected officials, the members voted to approve the staff’s recommended action to circulate the annexation petition.

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