by Dennis Dalman
by Dennis Dalman
One afternoon last summer, John Wood of Sartell was driving back to his mobile home when he noticed the sky was quickly turning dark. This was followed by high winds, rain and the sound of pelting hail stones.
Back home, he looked up and saw a funnel cloud forming in the distance. He rushed over to the park’s maintenance shop, where its basement was then serving as a storm shelter. The building was locked.
Looking skyward again, Wood was relieved when he saw the funnel cloud dissipate. That storm scare stuck with Wood and made him more determined than ever to put pressure on the powers-that-be to fix park problems. He began to write a series of letters to senators and legislators, the Minnesota Attorney General and others – urging all of them to help park residents.
The name of that park, located at 106 Second St. S., is “Sartell MHP” – the MHP standing for “Manufactured-Home Park.” For many years, starting in 1978, it was known as Hi-Vue Park. Its name was changed several years ago when a Colorado-based company, Impact Communities, purchased it.
Last summer – and long before last summer – residents of that park have been clamoring for the park’s owners to provide a strong, adequate, up-to-date storm shelter, and other long-deferred improvements and infrastructure issues, chief among them the park’s aging and damaged water lines.
There are 163 home lots in the park and close to 400 residents. The park was originally designed for only 110 lots, said Wood, who has lived in the park since 2017 and who is president of the Sartell MHP Residents’ Association.
Wood and other members of the association picketed in front of Sartell City Hall May 24 to bring attention to the problems at the park and the frustrations that go with them. Five hours after picketing, Wood addressed the city council during its open forum, telling about the problems and wanting the city to be aware of them and perhaps help do something about them.
On the morning of May 29, Wood and other association members gathered at the entrance to the park and pounded into the ground about a dozen large placards, but by 10:30 a.m. the police ordered them removed on the basis they were visible distractions on a busy roadway, Wood said.
Each placard contained written complaints about the park. The complaints include another rent increase starting Aug. 1 that will make monthly lot rents more than $500, along with extra costs for water, water-meter monthly rental, sewer, garbage disposal; storm-sewer failures; water-pressure failures; sewage-line failures; damage to landscaping by maintenance operations and snow-removal methods; 14 park managers hired and quitting or being let go since 2017; periodic flooding; and incidents of raw-sewage backups into some residents’ homes.
Members of the association said it has been a constant battle to get problems fixed.
In a legal document signed recently, it was agreed the two buildings serving as storm shelters in the park must be improved to meet standards. One is under the maintenance building, which requires installation of an access for disabled residents. That access must be completed by Aug. 31. The other shelter is in a reinforced long-abandoned car wash in the park. The storm-shelter work, which had often been delayed despite deadlines in the past, was ordered in the legal agreement to be done by June 1. Another legally mandated agreement is to fix a broken water line and to make sure water pressure is adequate, also by June 1. Among the signatories on the document are a district manager for IMPACT Communities, which owns the park; Chelle Benson of Stearns County Environmental Services; a Stearns County attorney; and Sartell City Administrator Anna Gruber.
Gruber, in a note to the Sartell Newsleader, stated the park is licensed by Stearns County, not the city. Thus, the City of Sartell has no jurisdiction over its operation or management. The city does inspect the park for compliance with fire code and rental code, Gruber noted. The city, she said, also has one water meter in the park and bills the park for water usage, and the park then bills residents for water, based on meter readings at each lot.
Connie Dixon, who lives in Sartell MHP, has been its manager for almost a year.
She said the required improvements of the shelters have been completed, except for a reinforced door to be installed and for the disabled access, which she said will be done by the deadline, Aug. 31.
“There’s new stuff happening and a lot of work going on (in the park) right now,” Dixon said. “We also passed the water-pressure test just yesterday. A couple of residents don’t have full water pressure to their homes, but those are places with old pipes that need to be blown out.”
Some residents, Dixon said, are unaware of maintenance measures they themselves can do to prevent problems.
“The key,” she said, “really is better communication.”
The park association members said the ever-escalating monthly rent amounts is one of their major concerns, especially on top of the other charges they must pay for water/sewer and garbage disposal. Right now, lot rent is $465. That will increase to $500 in August. All told, many residents will be paying $550 and even more monthly. It is a deep concern, Wood said, to the many elderly people on fixed incomes who live there.
There are 594 mobile-home parks in Minnesota, and about 180,000 residents. The lot rent increase to $500 in August will be one of the highest lot-rent amounts among those parks, Wood said.
Joe Perske, a Sartell resident who is a Stearns County Commissioner, said he has long been aware of problems at mobile-home parks, including at Sartell MHP. Perske said counties, cities and the state legislature must work together to put a stop to abuses.
“There’s too much passing of the buck, and it’s time for it to stop,” Perske said. “It should be a matter of enforcement, but there are always objections and legal maneuvers and then it all gets lost.”