Temporary victory for Arden Manor residents

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There was standing room only inside Arden Hills City Hall Monday night as Arden Manor manufactured-home park residents and their allies wearing “vote NO” stickers came to beg the City Council to vote “no” to a development proposal that would make a dramatic impact upon their beloved community. Emotionally charged comments came from so many citizens that Arden Hills City Council extended the meeting an extra forty-five minutes in order to complete the remaining business on the agenda.

Surprise and gratitude rippled through the crowd when all four City Councilmembers voted not to select a concept originally presented on July 23, 2007 that would have started a preliminary design phase and displaced fifty-one homes in the Arden Manor park. Forty-four of the homes impacted by the July plan are manufactured, or mobile, homes.

“And I thought we’d only get two of them to vote ‘no’ for us”, said a smiling Chuck Mertensotto, city resident and Arden Manor supporter as he went to join the throng in the lobby for a victory photo.

“A lot of us were shocked,” said Kristy Effinger, 59, Arden Manor Residents Association Secretary. “(Councilmember) Fran Holmes wrote me an e-mail saying that she did not want to see the mobile-home park disappear, but that she was going to vote for accepting the July 23 concept plan tonight,” said Effinger.

“Many of us felt like we weren’t being heard. Maybe because the general public perception of people who live in manufactured home parks is…I don’t like to even say it…is that we are perceived as being ‘trailer trash.’ It’s so not true,” lamented Effinger.

Arden Manor, along with two businesses, Sherer Brothers Lumber and the Big Ten Supper Club and Bar, are located on a triangular piece of land sandwiched between I-35W, State Highway 10 and County Road 96. Both Hwy 10 and CR 96 are slated for improvement because of safety and access issues. The 10/96 Interchange has “a rank of 21 on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) list of the top 200 accident-prone interchanges in the State” according to City of Arden Hills Resolution No. 2008-08. MnDOT considers it a high-priority to make the interchange safer for all users.

East of Hwy 10 is the 585-acre Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) site, which the City of Arden Hills wants to redevelop. Development of the TCAAP site will include housing. More housing will mean more traffic. New and safe access to the TCAAP development and a new entry and exit access for the otherwise un-affected Sherer Brothers Lumber company, are givens in the road-design considerations.

Could the improvement plans be re-vamped to use more of that 585 acre open-space instead of the Arden Manor neighborhood?

“The biggest difference between what was shown last night and one that would utilize more of the TCAAP site is the location of the local streets,” said Chris Roy, the North Metro Area Manager for MnDOT .

“The frontage road on the west side of highway 10 will be a city street, in large part the city can determine where it is located. MnDOT will need to ensure its location doesn’t have any unacceptable consequences to our highways. When the project is in the preliminary design phase the location of the frontage roads can be analyzed with more accuracy and better judge the pros and cons of every alternative. I believe there are ways to lessen the impacts to Arden Manor. I am doubtful there is an interchange project that has no impacts to Arden Manor,” said Roy.

The July 23 concept plan shows Hwy 10 frontage roads displacing 36 Arden Manor homes along with the Big Ten Supper Club and Bar, which was established in 1904, and shows the widening of CR 96 displacing 15 more homes. There are 284 lots for homes in Arden Manor park and only five or six are unoccupied.

“The problem is that these people own their homes. Many of these homes can’t be moved at all or they can’t be moved anywhere else in the city,” said supporter Mona Langston, policy advocate for the Housing Preservation Project, a non-profit law firm in St. Paul. There are no other manufactured-home parks in Arden Hills.

“New homes will cost more than what the City offers as a replacement. (The displaced residents) won’t be able to afford homes elsewhere,” said Langston. Mayor Stan Harpstead interrupted Langston’s comments to accuse her of making “inflammatory statements.” Langston calmly responded that she was not making statements of that kind.

“My concern with Mona Langston’s remarks centered around the structure of her comments,” Harpstead said later. He said that Langston “conveniently left out any obligations under State law to help with a replacement home, focusing instead on the [42-month] time-limitation (again in State law) of further assistance such as mortgage differential.” The mayor also said the city will be better able to respond to residents after engineering studies are completed.

Mayor Harpstead was the only one on the City Council to vote for acceptance of the concept plan in order to get the improvement process rolling. However, many of the concerned citizens present Monday night fear that the process may very well roll right over them.

According to a market study by Maxfield Research, Inc. of Minneapolis, prepared for the City of Arden Hills and presented this month, the recommended price for lots in the new TCAAP development are between $100,000 – $250,000 and estimated home values, including townhomes and single-family dwellings, are between $375,000 -$1,000,000.

The estimated cost of a 1-2 bedroom manufactured-home comparable to most in Arden Manor park, is $60,000 – $90,000 according to various dealers found online. At manufactured-home parks, the lot upon which the home sits is rented, and lot rent at Arden Manor averages around $350.

“I don’t want a mortgage,” exclaimed Effinger, “We haven’t had a mortgage in twenty years. We shouldn’t be worse off financially than we are now, especially when it wouldn’t be our choice to leave.”

Effinger’s home is not one of the homes immediately in danger of being cleared away by what some call progress, but Korean War veteran, 74-yr-old Don Myers’ home is. He has no idea where he will go if he is displaced from his home at Prior Circle.

“A lot of our residents really love being here,” said Effinger who raised her two children in Arden Manor with her husband, Jerry, a truck driver, for the past 18 years. “They want to stay in Arden Hills and in their affordable homes,” said Effinger.

Pat McLafferty, president of the Residents Association and two year resident of Arden Manor agrees. “I have the ideal living situation. We have a great park in the neighborhood for kids; there are ducks, geese and opossums in my back yard. This is a place where people connect. We had a big hot-dog feed recently and 300 people came out,” said McLafferty. The neighborhood is diverse in age and race, and there are military veterans, retirees, bus drivers, single parents, factory workers, store clerks and truck drivers among them.

Pat Haik of the Briar Knoll neighborhood in Arden Hills spoke eloquently in support of Arden Manor residents. “I want to read to the council what the City has stated in its 1998 Comprehensive Plan: on page 30, one of the goals of the City of Arden Hills is to ‘preserve the integrity and quality of residential neighborhoods.’ I think that deserves repeating,” said Haik. And Haik repeated what he had just read.

The battle is not over, but even a small and temporary victory is worth celebrating. “Hey, we’re going over to the Big Ten for a beer,” announced Russ Adams, Executive Director of the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, one of the supporting organizations present at the City Council meeting for residents of Arden Manor.

“Don’t leave without me,” said McLafferty.

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