Some West Walnut Lane residents said they were surprised to hear of property owner Ed Nelson’s decision to sell the trailer park where they live.
The City of Moab estimates over 40 people currently residing in the trailer park may be temporarily displaced if, or when, the city closes on its purchase of the site in November.
At a Moab City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 14, Moab City Senior Projects Manager Tracy Dutson discussed the city’s purchase agreement contract, the need for assessments and the future of the current tenants residing there.
“The city’s biggest concern is for the residents,” Dutson said. The city’s second biggest concern, he said, is maintaining the existing affordable housing options. He said the city’s fear is that an outside commercial investor could purchase the property, displace the current residents and build something unaffordable to Moab’s residents.
Nelson recently listed the 2.95 acres of property on West Walnut Lane for sale with a price of $1,999,000, though the agreed-upon sale price is not known. Nelson is being represented in the transaction by Rachel Moody of the Real Estate Company of Moab.
Because the sale isn’t finalized, Dutson said it’s too early to say how or when people could be displaced from the property. He said that residents should not move out yet. By law, he said, the steps taken once the sale of the property is finalized will probably be determined on an individual, household-by-household, basis, and said, “there are a lot of variables at play.”
Resident Lilly Goldtooth lives on the property and was picking up her family’s mail at the street-side mailbox. The mail going to the trailers in the area where she lives is addressed to 250 W. Walnut Lane. When asked if she’s heard about the recent plan to sell the property to the city, she shook her head and said no.
It’s a quiet neighborhood where many service workers live, Helen M. Knight Elementary School students ride their bicycles and cats stretch out in the driveways until a slow-moving vehicle pulls into view causing the gravel to crunch. About 37 trailers sit on the property, and there isn’t a definitive number of residents, but Dutson said the number of people who live there could be closer to 60.
According to the city’s discussion, the property is located at 193 W. Walnut Lane, but Grand County records don’t match the addresses that the tenants on the property are currently using.
“There are actually two pieces of land,” Nelson said, but where those boundaries lie is uncertain.
On Monday, Aug. 20, Nelson drove through the trailer park neighborhood in his white pickup truck with his father, Charles.
Close to one of the trailers sits a small box on stilts that looks similar to a “Little Free Library,” but a sign on it reads that it is a feeder for cats, which are petted regularly by the children in the neighborhood. At the other end of the property, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were making door-to-door visits.
Nelson said he had purchased the properties from his father, and before that, his father had acquired the properties from Virginia Johnson upon her retirement. He pointed to some of the trailers that are owned by the tenants, like the one where Goldtooth lives with her family. When asked about what the current tenants think of his decision to sell the land to the City of Moab, Nelson scratched his head and said he didn’t know.
“I didn’t think it was going to happen,” he said, “and there’s things that could still fall through — there’s a lot of paperwork still. I don’t think people know; I haven’t told anyone yet.”
Nelson got out of the pickup truck and walked to Goldtooth’s front door. A few seconds after he knocked, Goldtooth came to the door and he explained to her that he is selling the property.
“I’m surprised,” she said.
Should the city follow through with its purchase of the property, it will likely move people away from the property as construction commences on new homes, or let them stay as the construction work is completed in a phased development. The city has already discussed the potential for building units similar to Cinema Court Apartments.
Dutson said it’s too early to speculate on when people could be displaced, or where people would relocate as construction is underway. Many of the trailers are too old to be physically moved to a new location.
When the city decides that it’s time for the people living on the property to move, Goldtooth said she will consider returning to the Navajo Nation near Rock Point, Arizona.
“If I want to come back, I will,” she said.
Farther down the lane, Nelson pointed to two brown-colored trailers and said he performs maintenance on the trailers still under his ownership in the park. The two trailers had recently been painted, but some of the surrounding trailers had broken windows or plywood covering holes.
Nelson said he wanted to do more for the property and its tenants who call the neighborhood home.
“It’s just getting ahead of me,” he said. “I don’t have the money to do what the city can do with it. The reason why I am interested in selling to the city, so to speak, is the mayor, Emily Niehaus, I actually believe she will look after these people a little bit. I feel that they deserve an upgrade.”
Fifteen-year-old Shakira Lopez-Luna was sitting on the porch of her home and said that she has lived there since she was born. She also had not heard that Nelson had listed the property for sale or that the city had offered to buy it.
“I’m shocked,” she said. “I didn’t know, but I don’t care because it’s old and there’s cats everywhere. It’s good that they’re doing that.”
Though she said neither Nelson, nor anyone else, had talked to her about replacing her family’s home or neighborhood yet, she said she didn’t like the idea of replacing the trailers with an apartment complex similar to Cinema Court Apartments.
Nelson said a majority of the residents speak Spanish as their primary language and know little English. Nelson himself doesn’t speak Spanish, and said that he writes the tenants letters to communicate. He lifted his hands and said, “and we use a little bit of sign language.” At one residence, he asked for the whereabouts of “el rento.”
Some people in the neighborhood, speaking in Spanish, said the have work visas or are visiting from Mexico with travel visas. Five people declined to be interviewed, but said that it was their first time hearing of the sale.
Resident Juan Salas Diaz, 20, preferred to speak in Spanish and said, “I am surprised. I knew nothing of the plan.” He said he has lived in the trailer park for about one year and works in food preparation at two restaurants downtown.
Like many other residents in the neighborhood, he asked, “When is the move?”
Nelson said he felt nervous about telling the residents about the sale; while he said that he realizes the sale will temporarily displace people, he hopes they’ll return to live in new homes.
“Some of them won’t fit into the certain categories for being able to rent, like in Cinema Court or some of the other places, but hopefully they will,” he said. “They either make too much money or not enough. Hopefully things will work out.”
Leticia Ramos, 37, and Paola Romo, 39, said they had not known about the property’s sale, either.
“I am surprised,” Ramos said. “We will wait and see what happens.”
More than a dozen of the tenants living in the trailer park responded by saying they are “surprised” or “shocked” at hearing about the pending sale, but most said they were supportive of the change and possibility of new homes.
Moving forward, the city will review the upcoming survey and assessments on the property and determine whether it still wishes to finalize the purchase. Dutson said a closing date on the sale is estimated for Nov. 2.
Dutson said the city is in the process of ordering a new market appraisal by a third party and a new survey of the property.
The land on which the trailer park sits was once an orchard, Nelson said.
“The trailers were all laid out and built during the uranium boom in the 1950s,” he said. “They’ve gotten old … It’s been sold off in different sections.”
That could account for the discrepancy in the property’s addresses.
Dutson said that on the Grand County Corporation Tax Roll Master Record, the property is listed, through a trust account Nelson created with Far Country, LLC.
Combined, the county’s records state the tax appraisal for the 2.95 acres is $705,000.
The first parcel is recorded as 1.56 acres at 193 W. Walnut Lane. The second piece is listed as “Walnut Lane ‘Part of TRL’” which means “trailer court,” Dutson said. That section of property is listed at 1.39-acres.
The leases and the mail, however, are written with the addresses of 250 and 280 Walnut Lane.
Unofficial GPS mapping does show that a property exists at 193, and indicates that the address for 250 is 50-feet from the 193 address. Dutson acknowledged that it’s confusing, but said the city is working to resolve the issue before finalizing the sale.
City says ‘biggest concern is for the residents’ in pending purchase of aging Walnut Lane property
“I don’t have the money to do what the city can do with it. I actually believe [Mayor Niehaus] will look after these people a little bit. I feel that they deserve an upgrade.”