Ephraim amends trailer deadline
EPHRAIM—With a standing-room crowd of potential displaced residents looking on, the Ephraim City Council last week backed off from its vote to shut down the DJ Trailer Court effective Jan. 31, 2017.
At the meeting Wednesday, Dec. 7, the council listened for an hour while trailer court owner David Strate made the case that he had done the things the city had asked him to do to repair the court over the past three years, insofar as he understood them.
The council also heard from Connie Hill, chairwoman of the Utah Coalition of Manufactured Home Owners, a nonprofit based in Salt Lake City, about a possible plan to bring in a developer to redevelop the park, after which it would be turned into a co-op facility owned by residents.
Finally, the council heard from Chad Parry, director of public works, who said problems with the culinary water system at the trailer court were “really, really serious stuff” posing a danger of contamination reminiscent of what happened in Flint, Mich.
At that point, the council amended the resolution it passed Nov. 2. In some ways, the amendment is tougher, and in some ways more lenient, than the original resolution.
The amended motion gave Strate one week to “address the drinking water concerns with a professional.” He was directed to provide the council with the name of a plumbing contractor and the earliest possible start date for doing work described in an inspection report prepared by Sunrise Engineering, a firm consulting with the city on code enforcement.
At the Nov. 2 meeting, the council rejected the plan Strate submitted for remediating problems outlined in an 11-page Sunrise Engineering report. At that time, the council noted Strate’s plan included 45 statements to the effect of “will address later” or saying problems were a tenant responsibility.
The amended resolution gives him nearly one more month to submit a new remediation plan “showing exactly what will be done to correct each concern” in the Sunrise Engineering report. That document is due Jan. 4, 2017.
If the council does not accept Strate’s revised remediation plan in January, the amended resolution extends the date when the city will shut off utilities from Jan. 31 to March 1. That is the new potential date when 17 families in the trailer court must vacate.
Hill, the chairwoman from the mobile home coalition, said the DJ Trailer Court “is part of your unsubsidized, affordable housing.”
She said her group was exploring whether a nonprofit developer could be brought in to redevelop the park and transform it into “a good representation of what an affordable mobile or modular home development should be.”
That would include new infrastructure, such as new electrical, culinary water and sewer systems, and “appropriate trailer pads.”
Hill said such a plan would be contingent on Strate agreeing to sell the property and the nonprofit developer coming up with $300,000-$500,000. She said she would know in a few weeks if the concept was feasible.
Councilman John Scott asked her, based on her knowledge of mobile home parks, how the DJ Court would rank on a 1-10 scale.
“This one’s at the very low end,” Hill said. “It’s been allowed to become a real blight to the city.”
If a plan isn’t put together to redevelop it, she said, the city wouldn’t have much choice except to close it.
Early in his presentation, Strate raised his right hand and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
He said the city council wasn’t completely responsible for “the mess we’re in.” Rather, he claimed the city staff, along with the Sanpete Messenger, had said “a lot of things that were totally false.”
He claimed problems described in letters from the city to him in 2014 and 2015 had all been fixed. “Where’s the information I ever disregarded anything from the city?” he asked.
Last July, Parry, the city public works director, walked through the court with Strate and talked to him about continuing problems. But Strate said until he read a story in the Aug. 31 Messenger “I didn’t realize there was an issue.”
Strate said that until he received the Sunrise report in late September, he never realized there was a problem with water and sewer at the park.
He also said that all the issues “that were important” in the Sunrise Engineering report “have been taken care of.”
“I take seriously my responsibility as a landlord,” Strate said. “I’ve had quite a learning curve to figure out what was going on. I honestly felt I was addressing this to the best of my ability.”
Council members clearly didn’t buy Strate’s contentions. “You’ve acknowledged that by the 22nd of July, you knew there were major issues, major things that were wrong, at the trailer court,” Councilman John Scott said.
Yet many of the same issues were raised in the independent report from Sunrise Engineering, Scott said.
Not only did the engineering firm find many code violation persisting in the park, Scott said, but it also let the city council know that the city itself could be liable if illness, injury or death occurred there.
Councilwoman Margie Anderson cited the warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif. People are saying the City of Oakland could be held liable for deaths of people who were living in the warehouse in violation of zoning and building codes, she said.
“Give the tenants until March 1,” she said. ‘They do need to have Plan B in their back pockets.”
“If we’re going to give him a month, we’ve got to give them a month,” Councilman Richard Wheeler said, “with the understanding they should be looking for other housing.”