AURORA | There was just one reason why Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare found himself trapped on Interstate 70 for seven-and-a-half hours last week when a bomb cyclone swept through Aurora: the finishing touches on a long-fought agreement to aid tenants being evicted from a closing mobile home park.
The finalized contract presented to city council allows $300,000 to the remaining residents of the Denver Meadows Mobile Home Park and ensures the plot of land will now get a sure shot at rezoning. In relaying the news of the deal to his city lawmaking colleagues the following Monday, LeGare joked at his misfortune of being stuck in a storm just miles from home for nearly the length of a full work day. It wasn’t the most harrowing part of reaching the agreement.
“I needed to get that agreement out and get it done,” LeGare said. “That was the only reason I went in to the office that morning. The weather turned from above freezing to below freezing and the winds were extremely high.”
Now the tenants of the remaining 18 units at the Denver Meadows are set to be out of the park by May 31 and have some financial assistance to do so. Exactly how much each unit will get is still being determined, according to lawyer Jason Legg, who has been representing clients of the park since last summer. He said he’s hoping each resident will get what has already been determined, but because prices can be adjusted downward for damages on the units, it’s unknown what the final payments will be.
Currently, the payments to each of the mobile home owners vary from about $7,600 to $27,000 — which was based on the purchase price of the mobile homes.
After sending off the agreement, LeGare inched along the stretch of highway for hours through snow and hurricane-force winds before making it to his home in nearby east Aurora.
“So I’ve got a lot invested in this,” LeGare told city council members.
The agreement with the owner of the park was a 180-degree change from the week prior, he said.
LeGare said any relocation assistance from the park owner to the residents was “dead in the water” then. But the mayor, who has a long history with city policymaking and an even longer history as a commercial real estate broker, struck a deal with park owner Shawn Lustigman — it’s a seemingly miraculous feat for the tenants who have been speaking at city council meetings for nearly three years about the conditions of the park’s closure.
Lustigman did not immediately return phone calls from the Sentinel.
“They are relieved that they are getting some help. They feel like they’ve won, but on the other hand they are very stressed about finding a place,” said Petra Bennet, a former resident of the park. “On the outside it’s like ‘yay, they’re getting money’… but they still have to find houses or apartments that accommodate their families.”
Bennet lived in her mobile home in the park for 18 years. She said she was able to move, leaving her mobile home behind and “up to my ears in debt,” but added that she’s happy that the remaining tenants are getting some help.
Like most of the families that have once called Denver Meadows home, she won’t get any assistance because she’s already moved. Legg said that’s one of the aspects from the predicament that’s left him with heartburn: many families left, with debt, and few options, thinking that an agreement would never come.
Bennet is a member of the city’s mobile home task force that’s given council members a bevy of recommendations with the hope that other mobile home residents in the city, at other parks, won’t face a situation like her own.
There are 18 units left at the park where more than 100 families used to call home. The remaining mobile homes are mostly too old to move, proving that mobile homes don’t exactly live up to their name. The park, sandwiched between the Anschutz Medical Campus and I-225, is set to face a zoning hearing, likely this summer, at the request of the park’s owner.
“There are no chances or choices and now they can concentrate on moving instead of fighting for money and or help from the park owners,” Bennet said.
Remaining tenants have become regulars at Aurora City Council meetings, pleading for the body to help them in some way. The city looked at other options for helping residents, including purchasing land, but they said every option they looked into ended up not being feasible.
In the end, the council decided earlier this month to grant each of the 18 units $10,000 for moving assistance. That measure was carried by Councilwoman Crystal Murillo, whose ward includes Denver Meadows.
LeGare said that even though his deal is able to secure money for the residents, the $10,000 is still an important piece for moving from the park, as the contract dictates that funds shall be released to mobile home owners after they’ve vacated the park. They’ll need somewhere to live before getting that money.
The agreement, like the payments, also ensures that Lustigman will get what he has been after for three years: a zoning hearing for the land so that he can eventually sell the park.
In July 2016 Lustigman’s request for a rezoning from a mobile home park to a transit oriented development site was tabled by the Aurora City Council — which struggled with balancing Lustigman’s property rights with the certainty that rezoning would reduce the city’s unsubsidized affordable housing stock, evicting possibly dozens of low-income families.
Untabling the zoning hearing would be a politically unpopular move for any council member, LeGare said. “My feeling all along was that they (the owners) would be better off financially if they made a payment to (the residents).”
That’s because untabling the hearing was beyond far-fetched given the potential evictions. But to LeGare, providing some financial support would likely ease some anxieties among the local lawmakers and making the untabling most certain.
The agreement, while a big sigh of relief for the residents is also a compromise. They’ll no longer have the park, because the contract requires that LeGare will untable the zoning hearing.
Even from the beginning LeGare said he never felt that Lustigman had any obligation to pay the residents, but with the contact there’s a solution for everybody involved.
There’s still work to be done to prevent another similar situation, too.
“Even though it’s been behind the scenes and not a lot of discussion, I’m still looking at ways to preserve. This is something I’ve been spending a lot of time on in between my Denver Meadows investment,” LeGare said.
Namely he’s sent a letter to all of the mobile home park owners in Aurora asking to meet about working together for further preservation.
The park owners have yet to return his correspondence.
*A previous version of this article said the payments were based on money owed on each mobile home. The payments are based on the purchase price.