Aeon, Lowry Grove residents file lawsuit to retain the affordable housing community


Residents of St. Anthony’s Lowry Grove mobile home park have been left with uncertainty after their right of first refusal was flipped on its back when their purchase agreement was deemed insufficient by the park’s buyer and seller June 13. The Lowry Grove land was sold and is now owned by Continental Property Group, but residents, who will have to pack up and leave in the spring, have sued to retain their right of refusal.

After the Lowry Grove property in St. Anthony Village sold to Continental Property Group on June 13, Alan Arthur, president and CEO of Aeon — the non-profit aiding Lowry Grove residents in their battle to retain their manufactured homes — said he could see only one way forward to preserve the land for affordable housing. 

“Clearly, if there is to be a next step, it will be a legal one,” Arthur said.

On June 27, that became the case. 

Antonia Alvarez, leader and organizer of the Lowry Grove residents, and Arthur filed a lawsuit with Hennepin County District Court. 

 

Counter offer was shot down

On June 10, the residents of the manufactured housing community unsuccessfully attempted to use their right of first refusal, which, if accepted, would have allowed Aeon to buy and maintain the 15-acre property on behalf of the residents.

Aeon’s countering purchase agreement was shot down, even though it offered up the same $6 million that Continental Property Group was paying. 

According to state statute, the right of first refusal takes the upper hand in a case like this, and would have led to success for the mobile-home residents. 

But according to Continental Property Group president Traci Tomas and the former managing property owner Phil Johnson, there were issues in the purchase agreement Aeon submitted that made it ineligible. 

Though Johnson left the country after the sale on a pre-planned trip and could not be contacted and Tomas was unsure exactly what criteria was not met for a proper right of first refusal, Arthur said it was because Aeon had requested more time to iron out some of the details of purchasing the property for the residents.

He added that Aeon had the money it needed for the purchase, but wanted to walk through some of the other logistics more carefully.

Arthur said he wants Lowry Grove, at 2501 Lowry Grove Avenue N.E., to remain what it is: a manufactured housing community in a prime location, on the border of Minneapolis. 

 

Diminishing
affordable housing 

In an interview with the Bulletin, Alvarez said that her “wish is to keep our homes,” but she also explained that her efforts, and this fight in general, have transcended Lowry Grove itself. 

She called the issue one of “critical importance,” stating that affordable housing, especially in convenient locations, is being “stripped away from those who need it.”

Both Arthur and Alvarez called Johnson’s sale to Tomas “illegal,” and the lawsuit claims just that: that the owners violated a Minnesota statute by closing on a sale despite a legitimate matching offer from Aeon to purchase the park for the residents. 

Their hope is that the closed transaction will be determined void and Aeon’s purchase offer will be executed.

“A lot of seniors, families and children depend upon Lowry Grove as our home, and to throw it away without a fight is not acceptable,” Alvarez said.

According to Arthur, Minneapolis-based Aeon works to retain and increase affordable housing in Minnesota, and to preserve and improve properties like Lowry Grove.

 

‘Severe impact’

“If these residents lose their homes, it will have a severe impact on not only their lives, but the community at large,” Arthur said in a statement. “Aeon meets the requirements set out by state law as a credible future owner and steward for Lowry Grove.”

For now, however, the property is owned by Wayzata-based Continental Property Group, which is planning to develop the land for various types of housing, and possibly some commercial use.

According to Tomas, some of the new housing that is planned for the site will include an affordable aspect, but she noted that the rent of any future affordable units on that land will most likely not be comparable to the $400 lot rent Lowry Grove residents currently pay.

The Lowry Grove residents, many of whom own their homes, have until next spring to move. While the newer homes can be relocated, many of the older ones are “planted” in the park and face demolition.

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815. Follow him at @JPooleNews.

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