Court hearing down, Lowry Grove residents await judge’s decision


On Friday, Aug. 26, approximately 50 Lowry Grove residents and their supporters marched from the St. Anthony manufactured home park to Minneapolis, for the long-awaited court hearing regarding their fight against the site’s new owner, Continental Property Group. Rather than redevelopment, many residents hope to keep calling Lowry Grove home. Below, in a “sketch plan,” Traci Tomas reveals a preliminary plan for the future of the Lowry Grove property in St. Anthony Village.

In a “sketch plan,” Traci Tomas reveals a preliminary plan for the future of the Lowry Grove property in St. Anthony Village.

According to the plan, buildings A and B would be rentable mixed-income apartments, buildings C and D would be rentable senior housing, building E would be rentable “micro” apartments, and there would be about 37 for-sale townhomes surrounding the buildings.

The new owner of the 15-acre property procedes with plans to develop the land.

Owner moves forward with preliminary redevelopment plans

Residents of the Lowry Grove manufactured housing community and their supporters took to the streets the morning of Aug. 26, marching from the 2500 block of Lowry Avenue N.E. in St. Anthony Village to the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis for their much-anticipated court hearing. 

In June, Lowry Grove residents partnered with Aeon — a Minneapolis-based non-profit that seeks to assist people who need affordable housing — to exercise their right of first refusal under state law to halt the sale of the land on which they live to Wayzata-based Continental Property Group.  

Their right of first refusal, however, was rejected by park owner Phil Johnson and Continental Property Group president Traci Tomas, and the land was sold for $6 million June 13, after both parties deemed Aeon’s counter purchase agreement insufficient.

 

Dozens march

According to Alan Arthur, president and CEO of Aeon, approximately 50 people took part in the nearly two-hour walk Aug. 26, and about 400 neighboring residents expressed their support in other ways.

“We are all family, and families defend themselves,” said Antonia Alvarez, resident leader of the Lowry Grove community. “That is why we will continue.”

According to Arthur, for now, “continuing” means waiting.

“Smart attorneys from both sides made their oral arguments, and the judge [Joseph Klein] will make a decision in a few weeks after considering the oral and written arguments.”

 

What does the majority want?

In court, Continental attorneys claimed Aeon’s counter purchase agreement didn’t have 51 percent of the residents authorizing Aeon to make the offer, challenging seven of the residents’ signatures. 

“From my perspective, it comes down to this: the group that came forward to try to exercise the right of first refusal was not the majority of the park,” Tomas said in an interview with the Bulletin Aug. 29. “My understanding of the statute is that it requires at least 51 percent and that was not met... they don’t represent the majority of the residents.”

Arthur said he is confident that the names in question were proven in court to be valid and true.

Tomas isn’t so sure. 

“In my opinion, I think the majority of the residents recognize that their leases had a specific section that said at any time they could get a nine-month closure notice,” she said.

Tomas said she thinks the majority of the Lowry Grove residents understood that and “they weren’t surprised” by the sale.  

Tomas said some residents have already been compensated for either their homes or moving their homes out of the park. 

She said this compensation, which is mandated by state law, is perhaps part of the reason the protesting group of Lowry Grove residents is not 100 percent of the residents. 

 

Two more arguments 

Attorneys also claimed that Aeon didn’t turn in an actual matching purchase agreement, stating that the closing dates differed. 

According to Arthur, the two offers are alike, nearly word-for-word, and Aeon asked for 45 days to close on the 15-acre property because that was the same amount of time given to close in Continental’s purchase agreement, though Continental closed earlier, June 13.  

Another point attorneys made against Aeon was that they didn’t believe Aeon would maintain and upgrade the park’s infrastructure, parts of which are over 70 years old. 

“They’re making that up,” Arthur countered. “Everything said and written, all the discussions with lenders and funders are that we’re going to preserve the mobile home park.”

 

Which fate?

Though Aeon mainly works in the apartment industry, Arthur noted that the reason for helping the Lowry Grove residents parallels the goals of the non-profit.

“Our vision is a simple one; that every person no matter their income should have a home and be connected within a community,” he said.

According to Arthur and hundreds of other supporters, the Lowry Grove community is worth fighting for. 

Tomas said that Continental plans to redevelop the property with a smattering of housing options, including some possible affordable units. 

However, Tomas noted that none of the new units would be as low as the $400 site rent residents are now paying, especially due to the property’s prime location so close to downtown Minneapolis. 

If all goes according to Continental’s plans, the residents would have to pack up and leave their homes in the spring. 

Some of the newer homes could be moved, but many of the older ones are “planted” in Lowry Grove, and they will be demolished. According to state law, no matter the homes’ situation, the owners would be compensated at some level.

 

Redevelopment plans

To get the ball rolling, Tomas said she, in partnership with professionals from Elness Swenson Grahm Architects, Inc., Marquette Advisors and Landmark Environmental, have drawn up a “sketch plan” for the Lowry Grove site. 

The preliminary plan reveals that five large apartment-like buildings could be built, with for-sale townhomes surrounding those buildings. 

According to the plan, buildings A and B would be rentable mixed-income apartments, buildings C and D would be rentable senior housing and building E would be rentable “micro” apartments.

“The plan is just a starting point,” Tomas said. “I want to have meetings with not only city officials, but with St. Anthony and Minneapolis residents who border the property to get their input. We’re hoping to get all kinds of input and work collaboratively with everybody to make it an amazing project.” 

As far as steps forward, the St. Anthony City Council had planned to hold an August meeting at which a third party would be appointed to help Lowry Grove residents apply for compensation through the Minnesota Manufactured Housing Trust Fund, however, protesting residents asked the council to wait until Judge Klein’s decision. 

Tomas said the council pushed the meeting to Sept. 8. 

“The judge has 90 days to rule,” Tomas said. “I think both sides are hoping he doesn’t take that full 90 days.” 

 

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

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