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Published: Wednesday, 1/9/2013

Residents chafe at relocation proposal

BY LISA A. ABRAHAM
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Residents of a North Toledo mobile-home park remained bitter last night after meeting developers who hope to replace their homes with stores.

“I'm going to be homeless,” cried Penny Canfield, 44. “My trailer's a 1969, and I can't move it. I still owe $3,000 on my trailer. ... I was homeless before I came here.”

Ms. Canfield is one of more than 100 residents of the Shamrock mobile-home park who could be displaced if city council agrees to change the zoning of the park from residential to commercial.

The change would allow the land to be marketed to so-called “big-box” retailers.

Residents met last night with officials from the Benchmark Group, the Amherst, N.Y., developers who want to market the land, and were told the company would offer them $3,000 in relocation fees.

The amount angered most of the residents, who maintained that it was not enough to move a mobile home.

Ms. Canfield, her legs strapped into braces, said she finally had a place to call home when she moved into Shamrock two years ago. After being injured in a 1991 car accident, Ms. Canfield said she spent four years in a wheelchair, but later underwent spinal cord surgery and is able to walk.

During her recovery, she said she had no place to call home and bounced around from place to place, staying with friends or in shelters, until she was able to move into her mobile home.

The park's owner, Dean Skillman, is under contract to sell to Benchmark, which is attempting to have the zoning of about 30 acres of land on Alexis Road across from the GM Powertrain plant changed to commercial. The zone-change request includes part of the mobile-home park and adjacent vacant land owned by Joseph Brothers Realty.

If city council agrees to the zone change, Benchmark plans to buy the land and market it to one or more retailers such as Lowe's or Wal-Mart.

Residents from the mobile-home park and surrounding neighborhoods have begun speaking out against the development and proposed zone changes, which will be the subject of a city council hearing tomorrow.

Benchmark officials met with Shamrock residents at the request of Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz, in whose district the land is located.

Mr. Skillman did not attend the meeting.

Martin DelleBovi, executive vice president and director of development for Benchmark, told the group that Benchmark and Shamrock have agreed to pay each resident $3,000 to help relocate their mobile homes, or $2,000 if they decide to leave their mobile homes and move without them.

The conditions drew fire from Shamrock residents, who yelled at Mr. DelleBovi and complained that the amount was not enough and that many of their homes, because of their age, would not be able to be moved.

Resident Karen Reed said she got an estimate of $5,000 to move her home.

Most mobile-home parks, residents said, will not accept homes that are older than 30 years, and many have no vacancies.

About 20 minutes into the meeting, many stormed out angry that Mr. Skillman had not attended.

Ms. Canfield said residents were consulting with a lawyer to investigate a class action lawsuit to stop their displacement.

Some residents said they had just moved into the park within the last year and would not have if Mr. Skillman had told them he might be selling.

“I just bought mine seven months ago,” said Evelyn Durell. “I think they knew this.”

Mr. Skillman does not need a zone change to sell his mobile-home park, half of which already is zoned commercial.

Mr. DelleBovi said his company has been in negotiations with Shamrock for several months.

Shamrock resident George Fordyce asked Mr. DelleBovi whether the company would be willing to pay residents their total relocation costs if they submitted documentation for their moves.

But Mr. DelleBovi said that decision would be up to Mr. Skillman.

Mr. DelleBovi said if council approves the zone change, it could be four to six months before the land sale would close, provided all conditions of the contract with Shamrock were met.

After that, residents would have another six months to relocate, he said.

He told residents the meeting was “a little preliminary” because there was no guarantee the development would happen, and plans for such developments often do not materialize.

Mr. DelleBovi said after the meeting that he attended because Benchmark wanted to “clarify some of the things being stated.”

“I'm not surprised that people are concerned. They have a right to be concerned. You have to decide at what point in time you disrupt people with the possibility that there may be change,” he said.

Based on residents' complaints, Mr. DelleBovi said if the deal goes through, he would ask Mr. Skillman to consider not charging residents their $225 monthly rent once they presented a contract to him to have their homes moved.

In addition, he promised that he would give residents weekly updates, if they wanted, on the status of the land sale.

Council's zoning and planning committee is to hold a hearing on the proposed zone changes tomorrow at 9 a.m.

Council is expected to vote on the matter at its Jan. 23 meeting.



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