Archive for Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Trouble brewing in Paradise

Mobile home park targeted by county for improvements

August 9, 2006

Paradise Trailer Court is in jeopardy.

The mobile home park south of Tonganoxie must change, or county officials say they'll take action.

"It's a non-conforming use," Leavenworth County counselor Dave Van Parys said Monday. "That property is not zoned for a trailer court. We have, over the past years, attempted to have the owner bring it into compliance and, at the very least, remove some of the eyesores that exist on the property."

Paradise sits on a 41-acre site that includes spaces for 30 to 40 mobile homes. The land, at the northeast corner of U.S. Highway 24-40 and County Road 1, is owned by Gwen Vassar, Tonganoxie.

The property, which is in the county, is in Tonganoxie's future growth area, just south of the city limits. It's an area likely to experience intense growth, as a turnpike interchange has been proposed for County Road 1, three miles south of the trailer park.

And right now, it's in the public eye.

Vassar said that shortly after her husband, Russell Vassar, died in April, she decided to sell the trailer park. She said she's unable to handle the upkeep and maintenance herself. And, according to Vassar, a trailer park owner from out of town has expressed interest in buying it and continuing to operate it as a mobile home park.

Also, she says, a developer is interested in purchasing the property, closing the trailer park and developing the land.

"I don't want to do that," Vassar said. "There are some really nice people living out there. Some of them don't have any place else to go."

But the county has indicated -- one way or another -- it's time for major improvements at Paradise.

"We're aware that there may be a change in ownership," Van Parys said. "Whether there is or not, the county intends to vigorously move to bring that property into compliance."

That would mean, Van Parys said, the owner must apply for a special-use permit, likely would be assessed traffic impact fees and would have to follow county regulations.

Chris Dunn, county planning director, said the park doesn't meet standards for spacing and distance between trailers.

"It's a nuisance from the fact that it's not designed in a way where we can maneuver fire equipment in there well," Dunn said. "It doesn't have the circulation of traffic that we desire in a facility like that."

'A desperate situation'

While county regulations look at ordinances, a Paradise resident is looking at his home.

James Richardson, 72, already lived at the park some 25 years ago when the Vassars bought the facility.

"If she loses it, then everybody out here at the trailer park will have to get out," Richardson said. "I talked to some people and they don't have anyplace else to go. That's going to be a real bad situation."

Richardson said he wouldn't be able to afford to pay rental space at other area mobile home parks.

"It's a desperate situation for us," Richardson said.

Fighting all the way

Vassar, who has retained an attorney, said it was her understanding the trailer park had been grandfathered in.

"If I have to go to court with my attorney, I will fight them (the county) all the way," Vassar said. "They might put a glitch in my plans now. But it is my property. I can sell it if I choose. I want to sell it to people who own trailer courts and would keep it as it is."

But Van Parys was just as adamant.

"It's been a non-conforming use for years," Van Parys said. "In the past we had contact with the owner and he had taken some steps to clean the property up, but it is our position that it requires a special-use permit."

As far as a time frame, Van Parys said a special-use permit possibly could be heard by the county's planning commission in September or October.

"But certainly, time is of the essence and this is certainly not something that the (county) commission intends to allow to go unaddressed," Van Parys said.

It's time for action

Leavenworth County commissioner Dean Oroke said the trailer court existed years before the Vassars bought it.

Oroke said when the county was zoned, in about 1972, the two-story house and the 13 or so trailers around it were grandfathered in.

"There have been a lot of complaints about that over the years, but the county had never required them to come into compliance with the rules and regulations," Oroke said.

He said Paradise should have to follow zoning regulations.

"If you were to put a mobile home freestanding in the county you would have to have a septic tank permit, you would have to have a building permit," Oroke said. "Or if you have a development in the county, there would be certain standards as far as the road, they type or road, the size of the water lines, the fire hydrants. There are a lot of public safety issues and we would not have refrigerators standing in the middle of the road with the doors on."

Oroke, who lives across U.S. 24-40 from Paradise, took a drive through the trailer court Saturday. He said a refrigerator, with the doors on, had been placed in the county road's right of way.

"That's a matter of public safety," Oroke said. "Those are the type things that we would like to have eliminated. It's not that we, the county, are attempting to close it. We are attempting to have them come up to the standards."

Oroke said that in recent days he's received five phone calls about the trailer park. One of the callers noted the potential conflict of interest in that Oroke lives across the road from the trailer park.

"I can discuss it," Oroke said of his place as chair of the Leavenworth County Commission. "But if there's any action or determination, I will probably not be in the room or party to it, because of the potential conflict."

Still, he said, something needs to be done, Oroke said, adding, "I've put up with it for 18 years."

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