“What would you do for your family?” a Lowry Grove resident asked St. Anthony City Manager Mark Casey.
“I would protect them, provide for them, raise them the best way I can,” he said.
“We are doing everything we can to save Lowry Grove for our families,” said another resident at the August 12 gathering with Casey. “We have women with no husbands. I have four children by myself,” she said.
They huddled under a corrugated roof, rain drumming relentlessly, making a tour of the mobile home park’s puddle-filled roads sound senseless. Instead, slurping watermelon as juicy as that Friday sky, they got to know each other a little better.
Putting a human face on housing, on development, on the law… it’s powerful.
It’s as powerful as Lowry Grove’s association members hope will be the image of themselves, their children and new-found friends in the community, all walking to the Hennepin County Courthouse on August 26, with a bus for those who can’t walk, to watch lawyers present their case for a District Court judge to decide.
Continental Property Group (CPG) or The Village, Inc. and the seller of the park, Lowry Grove Partnership are on one side, the non-profit affordable housing developer Aeon and the residents on the other. The judge is to decide whether Aeon’s $6 million offer, made under a Minnesota law about residents’ right of first refusal, must be accepted in place of CPG’s.
A friend of the court brief filed by State Attorney General Lori Swanson supports the residents, saying there were “several actions by Defendants to undermine, circumvent, and violate § 327C.095” (the applicable statute). Swanson said Aeon was denied information necessary to fully match the conditions of the sale.
Swanson said that CPG and Lowry Grove Partnership “refused to engage in discussion over their purported disputes regarding Aeon’s authority, and instead rushed to close at least two days before their own deadline. Their claim is further contradicted by the terms of their own Purchase Agreement allowing Continental until closing to produce ‘such consents and authorizations as reasonably necessary to evidence Buyer’s authority to purchase the Property.’ Yet another section [of the purchase agreement] provided that inadvertencies related to documents would be subject to reasonable assurances and supplements before or after closing. These terms were denied to park residents.”
St. Anthony staff delayed a hearing that would have been held August 18, to September 8 in anticipation of the court ruling. The hearing would serve to appoint the third party that would work out relocation benefits if the CPG sale is found valid.
Casey commented that Swanson “doesn’t have the authority the judge has” and that the city is not a court. Asked “Are you willing to help us save Lowry Grove?” Casey answered that his role is to see to it that laws are followed. “We will do what we can to assure” that in any process “it’s fair, equitable and all voices are heard.”
Answering another question, Casey said that he was aware that many of the surrounding residents in the village and Northeast now support the Lowry Grove residents’ efforts to buy the property.
As this part of the agenda wrapped up, they said they had wanted to take Casey around to see the repairs they’ve made to their houses and the condition of the streets. As it was still raining, he assured them, “I’ve driven through many times in my five years as manager.”
Earlier that week, in the community forum portion of the St. Anthony City Council meeting Aug. 9, Lowry Grove resident and organizer Antonia Alvarez requested that the Council not allow any zoning changes for the Lowry Grove property. The request was aimed at preventing redevelopment of the site and relocation of families, and would be moot if the pending court case is decided in residents’ and Aeon’s favor.
Alvarez said that she felt “sad and stressed” to hear a presentation about the schools at the council meeting. Her daughter and other Lowry Grove children wouldn’t be able to attend the St. Anthony-New Brighton schools if the mobile home park were to close, she said, referring to the fact that there are no other living options as affordable in the school district.
Alvarez invited Mayor Jerry Faust to attend one of Lowry Grove’s weekly resident meetings; the mayor replied that he did not want to appear as if he were taking sides given that there’s a pending civil suit. Three days later, city manager Casey visited. “We know our responsibility is to the residents first, not to a corporation,” Faust said as part of his reply to Alvarez.
Also during the forum Lowry Grove resident Bill McConnell and St. Anthony resident Kelly Wilson referred to Lowry Grove’s mention in the city’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan. When McConnell asked that the council remove Lowry Grove from their 2008 “redevelopment schedule,” Faust questioned what he meant, and said, “There have been no plans, and we have not initiated. We don’t sit there relishing the redevelopment or the continuation, we’ve never encouraged anyone to come and buy it or redevelop it.”
Lowry Grove appears in the 2008 plan at least 12 times, including one reference to the 1998 Comprehensive Plan, in which the mobile home park was considered as a potential source of development of medium density housing.
“The Lowry Grove mobile home park is the one major instance of aged and deteriorated housing in St. Anthony. However, it is also the major source of affordable housing for population with incomes less than 50 percent of the community median.”
Elsewhere in the 2008 plan Lowry Grove is highlighted as a desired area for potential redevelopment, but it is also stated that any changes would need to be initiated by the land owner, that the city is “highly unlikely” to play a direct role in any redevelopment of it and other properties.
Some of the mobile homes have already been moved. The Northeaster has learned that Aeon is considering, as a way to assure financing the preservation of what remains of the mobile home park, adding new affordable apartment housing on land now occupied by temporary recreational vehicle parking.