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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cheney council pleads with owner for plan to help mobile home park residents who could be displaced

The Cheney City Council will introduce an ordinance to amend its zoning map that could potentially see the removal of the North Cheney Mobile Home Park. The amendment would change the use of the map to mixed-use development. Resident Douglas Brunell is concerned that if the ordinance is passed he and many low-income residents will be evicted from their mobile homes.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

While taking a step toward rezoning the property Tuesday, the Cheney City Council also urged the owner of a mobile home park, who might redevelop the land, to educate residents who could be displaced about their options.

The council on Tuesday night approved the first reading of an ordinance that would rezone the North Cheney Mobile Home Park property. Councilwoman Jill Weiszmann was the lone dissenting vote.

Several park residents have voiced concerns about becoming homeless if the park closes because of the high cost to relocate their homes and the lack of spaces available in the area.

Before another reading of the ordinance occurs, council members asked the park owner, Bellevue attorney Todd Tarbert, to provide a plan for residents, many of whom are low-income and older, if they are forced out of the park.

“I think it’s our job to help protect our community here, and I think one of the instruments that could do that would be a relocation plan,” Councilman Vincent Barthels said.

At a Feb. 28 council meeting, the council requested the property owner provide relocation strategies for residents and a timeline for when they would need to move if forced out.

“We’re tiptoeing around pretty much what we’re talking about,” Barthels told Tarbert.

The 17-acre piece of land off state Route 904 between Bi-Mart and Grocery Outlet is in the commercial zone and split by Minnie Creek. Tarbert wants to rezone the west side of the creek, where the park is located, to mixed use and the east side to multifamily residential.

Clifton Trimble of Storhaug Engineering, the applicant for the rezone proposal, said at the Feb. 28 meeting that there are no specific development proposals, but the mixed-use side of the property could include commercial spaces on the bottom of a building and residential spaces above.

A “variety of housing” options, such as one- to four-unit apartment buildings and townhomes, would be possible in the residential zone.

The mobile home park was constructed in the late 1950s outside the city limits; the city annexed the park and surrounding properties into the city in 1969, according to the ordinance that would accommodate the zoning change. The parcel was identified as “Commercial” in 1971 and as “C-2, General Commercial,” where it’s designated today, in 1986.

The Cheney Planning Commission unanimously recommended rezoning the property at a Feb. 13 meeting.

Tarbert said approving the ordinance does not mean the park will close. If it does, he said he expects to give residents at least a two-year notice.

State law states that a mobile home park owner must give tenants a one-year notice if the owner “intends to convert the use of the park.”

“This ordinance does not create any more higher level of angst than currently exists,” he said.

Park resident Douglas Brunell told The Spokesman-Review he was “infuriated” by Tarbert’s statement.

“It’s not Todd Tarbert who is going to be thrown out on the street homeless,” Brunell said.

Councilman Mark Posthuma said “the angst would never go away until I knew where I’m moving to, so that’s never going to go away.”

In a letter filed with the council’s March 14 agenda, the Washington State Department of Commerce outlined eligibility requirements and other information about how park residents can receive cash assistance to help with relocation costs. Victoria O’Banion, of Northwest Cooperative Development Center, discussed how resident-owned mobile home parks operate and how it could be implemented at the Cheney park.

Tarbert said he does not have a “definitive plan” for what development will look like, nor a timeline for construction, because he needs to understand the zoning parameters set by the council first. He said the soonest development would start is in two years.

“We don’t want to do something that isn’t going to have a positive, long-term impact on this community,” Tarbert said. “This is at the gateway to the city and we want to see what can we build there.”

Tarbert said one of the goals of the development is to address affordable housing issues in Cheney. He said his family has roots in Cheney, starting with his great-great grandparents, who moved to the city in the late 1880s.

Tarbert said he will do “everything in our power” to minimize the impact on residents if the park closes. He said there are options, such as assistance from the state Department of Commerce, and that a significant part of the responsibility is on the owners of the mobile homes.

Tarbert said tenants knew when they signed the lease that park closure was possible.

Posthuma said residents will face higher rent if they are displaced, and that low-income housing is difficult to attain in town. One suggestion Posthuma had was to move residents for the duration of construction at the rent price they’re paying now and allow them to return to the site in the low-income units he builds.

“That would solve the issue,” Posthuma said.

Tarbert said the project would not be viable if he were to do that. However, he said he expects many residents to move into his proposed units at a discounted price.

Councilman Ryan Gaard said there are an extremely limited number of places for residents to move, in part because of the age of the mobile homes at the park.

“That’s definitely a concern, because we’re not asking someone to just move out of a trailer to somewhere else in Cheney,” Gaard said. “We’re asking them to move away from Cheney.”

Councilman Paul Schmidt said the zoning change provides more flexibility for housing on the east side of the property, which is across the creek from the park, but like the other council members, he questioned how they could address potential displacement of residents.

Barthels said relocation information would give residents more certainty.

“I think that’s really what we’re asking for, and it doesn’t seem like that’s a huge ask,” he said.

Weiszmann said she likes the potential development Tarbert and his representatives outlined, but there are several unknowns about residents’ futures.

“It’s a very difficult decision looking at this for me,” she said. “It really is. I see both sides.”