Lowry Grove residents postpone city’s closure process; still hope to keep their homes


Led by resident leader Antonia Alvarez, residents and their supporters march to raise awareness of their battle for their homes at the Lowry Grove manufactured housing community in St. Anthony.

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.

Residents of the Lowry Grove RV park, along with their supporters, took to the streets again, this time on Sept. 8 to raise awareness of their battle to keep their mobile homes where they are.

Two weeks prior, more than 50 people marched for nearly two-hours, journeying from the manufactured housing community in the 2500 block of Lowry Avenue in St. Anthony Village to downtown Minneapolis. 

There they then attended the long-awaited court hearing in the lawsuit between Minneapolis-based non-profit Aeon — on behalf of the residents — and Lowry Grove’s new owner, The Village, LLC, headed by Traci Tomas. The Village bought the 15-acre property in June and intends to redevelop the land.

The Village is a new company that was formed by Tomas and others to acquire Lowry Grove. It is affiliated with, but has a different ownership structure than Continental Property Group, which was previously reported to be the park’s new owner. 

Tomas serves as executive vice president of both Continental Property Group and The Village.

Prior to finalization of the sale, Lowry Grove residents partnered with Aeon — an organization 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.

Aeon’s offer to buy the property, however, was rejected by then-owner Phil Johnson and Tomas, and the land was sold for $6 million June 13, after both parties deemed Aeon’s counter purchase agreement insufficient.

In addition to fighting The Village for the property, the Lowry Grove Residents Association and Aeon filed a Housing Discrimination Complaint against Johnson Sept. 8.

A march for halting

 The Sept. 8 march stemmed from frustrations the residents and their supporters had with the St. Anthony City Council, which they believed was gradually moving forward with the process of closing down Lowry Grove by next spring. 

Folks traveled by foot from the mobile home park to City Hall in hopes of convincing the council to cancel a public hearing on Lowry Grove that was scheduled that evening. 

The protestors pointed out that Judge Joseph Klein has yet to make a decision on the fate of the land and who will be the owner moving forward. They contended the council should not conduct any public hearings on Lowry Grove until after Klein announces his decision. 

“Despite the recent lawsuit challenging the proposed demolition of the community, and the recent support of the [Minnesota] attorney general, the city [was] moving forward with the process of closing the park by holding a public hearing,” asserted Ned Moore, development director of Asamblea de Derechos Civiles (Assembly for Civil Rights), a faith-based social justice organization.

 

Council agrees; waits

 During the meeting, the council unanimously voted to support the residents’ desire to have the public hearing postponed until Klein issues his ruling. 

“Rather than moving forward with the closure process, the city will wait until there is more clarity from the courts regarding the status of Lowry Grove,” Moore said. “Our position is that the park is not closing because residents exercised their right of first refusal, and will prevail in their lawsuit to save their homes.”

However, that is not Tomas’ position. 

“I’m disappointed,” she said. “The council’s decision to delay the public hearing significantly shrinks the amount of time residents will have to find alternative housing and receive financial compensation from the state fund.”

She said the decision to wait leaves residents “in limbo” and “only creates more confusion about what they are entitled to as defined by the state statute.”

Besides, she pointed out, she’s not convinced the majority of Lowry Grove residents are on board with resident leader Antonia Alvarez, a driving force in the effort to save the 70-year-old mobile home park.

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

“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. 

“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.”

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

 

Less time for logistics

According to Tomas, the purpose of the Sept. 8 public hearing was to start the process that allows Lowry Grove residents to apply for money from a state fund. 

“Those funds are meant to assist with relocation costs,” Tomas said. “The council’s decision to delay the public hearing significantly shrinks the amount of time residents have to find alternative housing and receive financial compensation.”

In the residents’ opinion, however, that all depends upon Klien’s ruling — perhaps they will not need to relocate, therefore, they may not need financial assistance from the state to do so.

Many of the park’s mobile homes are owner-occupied. Some of the newer homes could be moved, but many of the older ones are “planted” in Lowry Grove and will be demolished if the land is redeveloped.

“The Village, LLC, is the current owner of the park,” Tomas said. “We will continue to move forward with the development as planned from the very beginning. The council’s decision to delay the public hearing has no impact on the timeline for the park’s closure. It only affects the amount of time residents have to receive compensation from the state.”

 

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 owner-occupied townhomes surrounding those buildings. 

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

Tomas said the plan is just a “starting point” that city officials and residents can use at future meetings. 

“We’re hoping to get all kinds of input and work collaboratively with everybody to make it an amazing project,” Tomas said, noting that the initial sketch plans for the development were recently submitted to St. Anthony. “While it is still in the very beginning stages, we hope to build a modern mix of options that include 90 affordable units, which is nearly the same as the number of manufactured homes on the property now.”

Tomas has noted in the past that these units will not have rent as low as the $400 site rent residents currently pay at Lowry Grove. 

 

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

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