Lowry Grove closure date extended, allows students to complete school year


Lowry Grove will stay open until June so students can complete the school year.

Students living at the Lowry Grove manufactured housing community in St. Anthony Village won’t have to bid their school friends farewell until the end of the academic year. Whether or not they’ll be saying hello again in the fall is still playing out.

Through conversations with the school district and Lowry Grove families, Traci Tomas, vice president of The Village LLC, which owns the 15-acre property at 2501 Lowry Avenue, decided to push the park’s closure date to June 30. 

The Village aims to redevelop the land — with preliminary plans of creating five large apartment-like buildings, with for-sale townhomes surrounding those buildings — and had originally intended to have residents off the site completely by March 15, meaning students would be uprooted from their schools midstream. 

“From the beginning, The Village LLC has worked to assist the residents of Lowry Grove during this difficult time,” Tomas said in a statement. She went on to explain that the decision was made “as a way of easing the impact the closure will have on the residents and their children.”

“I am proud that open lines of communication led to this agreement with the residents,” Tomas said.

 

The battle’s not over

Though pleased by this news, Lowry Grove residents haven’t given up their battle to remain in their homes. 

Residents in the park pay a site rent of $450 per month and according to them, and Alan Arthur, founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based non-profit Aeon, an affordable housing advocate and partner to the Lowry Grove residents, there aren’t many places in St. Anthony that offer comparable rent rates. That means most residents will have to leave the area and subsequently the schools their children attend at the end of June. 

The next step in their fight was set for Jan. 3. Residents planned to protest in front of Continental Property Group’s headquarters in Wayzata — The Village is a subsidiary of Continental. 

According to a statement, residents intended to present the company with a large mock-check of $1,000, along with smaller individual checks brought by residents to leave in Continental’s office.

“A thousand dollars and a turkey are not enough to make up for the depression our kids feel, the potential homelessness we are facing, or to find new homes and apartments for our families,” said Antonia Alvarez, leader of the Lowry Grove Resident Association, referencing a recent settlement offer and a gift of turkeys sent to residents by Continental over Thanksgiving.   

 

‘Threatening to arrest’

But before their first action of the new year could take place, they cancelled the protest.

According to Ned Moore, development director of Asamblea de Derechos Civiles (Assembly for Civil Rights), a faith-based social justice organization that is assisting Lowry Grove residents, Continental Property Group’s attorney allegedly sent communication “threatening to arrest anyone on their property [Jan. 3] and charging them with criminal trespassing and pressing civil charges.” 

The group called off the protest “to avoid putting residents at risk that they did not plan for,” Moore said. “Our intention was to arrive and open a dialogue with Continental about the urgent situation at Lowry Grove, but through their threats Continental has clearly made their intentions known.”

Though several attempts were made, Tomas could not respond for comment in time for the Bulletin’s publication of this story.

 

HUD involvement

Meanwhile, Aeon and the residents are awaiting a resident-backed lawsuit and an ongoing U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Fair Housing investigation. Both measures were taken after Lowry Grove residents sustained a significant blow on Sept. 22 when Hennepin County District Court Judge Joseph Klein ruled in favor of the property’s new owner, saying that the property’s former owner Phil Johnson performed a legitimate and legal sale to Tomas.

This news came as a dismay to Lowry Grove residents and their supporters.

“We and the residents together are hanging in there, it’s the right thing to do,” Arthur said in a recent interview. “Home is too precious for people — for families and kids — and to just let go because someone wants to make more money just doesn’t seem right to me.”

 

Right of first refusal denied

Residents partnered with Aeon last June to attempt to exercise a right of first refusal under state law to stop the $6 million sale of their community to Continental Property Group. They thought this action would save their homes and put ownership in their own hands, via Aeon, but Johnson and Tomas found what they said were several errors in Aeon’s counter purchase agreement, which was submitted to Johnson by Arthur June 10. 

The sale was made complete the following Monday, causing an outcry from many Lowry Grove residents, especially Alvarez, who went on to become a driving force in the land ownership battle that has followed the sale.   

“Residents of Lowry Grove remain hopeful that their long fight to save their homes will prove victorious,” Moore said in a statement, explaining that HUD is still investigating the Fair Housing Act complaint that was submitted by residents and advocates in early September. 

 

Moving forward with redevelopment

Tomas was not shocked at Klein’s decision.

“We are pleased with, but not surprised by, Judge Klein’s ruling,” Tomas said in an email after Klein’s announcement. “From the beginning, we’ve realized that this is a difficult situation for the residents. That has never been something we’ve taken lightly.”

According to Tomas, The Village has been committed to following the state statute that regulates the sale of mobile home parks every step of the way. 

“Allegations that we violated the residents’ rights to due process or did anything illegally are completely untrue,” she said. 

But HUD has not yet announced its perspective on the situation, and has requested Tomas to slow down in the process of moving people out. 

Tomas has had a standing offer to help folks leave, financially. The amount of money offered to interested individuals is dependent upon the state of their home and their financial situation. 

While some of the newer homes can be relocated, others are “planted” in Lowry Grove and face being demolished. According to Arthur, nearly 40 homes have already been removed. 

 

‘Substandard’ or ‘the unknown’

Arthur and Alvarez said they don’t think the financial offers are sufficient. 

“When you’re poor and the future is unknown, any amount of money seems like a lot,” Arthur said. “You’re more susceptible to an inadequate offer because a substandard future seems better than the unknown. It’s true for all of us frankly, but if you’re poor, you’re in a position to be more susceptible and vulnerable to that.”  

With a neutral third party already appointed by city officials, however, some Lowry Grove supoorters are concerned that plans for The Village look a little brighter. 

To get the ball rolling, Tomas said she, in partnership with professionals from Elness Swenson Grahm Architects, Inc., Marquette Advisors and Landmark Environmental, have drawn up a “sketch plan” for the Lowry Grove site. 

The preliminary plan reveals that five, large apartment-like buildings could be built, with for-sale townhomes surrounding those buildings. 

According to the plan, two buildings would be rentable mixed-income apartments, two buildings would be rentable senior housing and a fifth building would be rentable “micro” apartments, which Tomas had called affordable. 

Those units probably won’t accommodate a family of four, however, and will not be as affordable as the current site rents for Lowry Grove residents, Tomas said.

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

 

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