Windover Farm Mobile Home Park residents were told in June to pack up their families, their possessions and their homes and find a new place to live, but many of them haven’t found anywhere else to go.
Owner Joe Painter said the park has been losing money over the past three years and he was forced to close. Residents were given 90 days to get out, but several were upset by what they considered to be a tight deadline. Many of them don’t have the money to move, either.
A handful of residents remain stuck there, and they have appealed repeatedly to the Auburn City Council and Lee County Commission for help.
“We’ll move, we have no problem about moving,” said Holly Macintyre at the Sept. 3 Auburn City Council meeting. “We will move, that’s fine. The trailer park is an eyesore, I agree, it really is. But we need help with moving. We can’t all of a sudden or last minute, because (they said) ‘Hey you’ve got to move’.”
Some of the residents argue that though the trailer park is technically outside of Auburn, it has acted as a part of the city for a long time.
“There’s been some talk about it being in the county city limits or in the city’s city limits,” said Holly McIntyre at the Sept. 3 Auburn City Council meeting. “Every time there’s an emergency, we call the police, the Auburn city police come.”
Auburn Mayor Ron Anders asked City Manager Jim Buston to address the issue of the trailer park’s location, related to the city.
“This particular property is not in the city limits of Auburn; it is in the county, in Lee County,” Buston said. “We do have mutual aide agreement with, we have a police jurisdiction, and that police jurisdiction extends to about 3miles outside of our line.”
Auburn cannot provide the financial assistance, however, because the trailer park is not within the city limits, according to Buston.
“People in the county do not pay city taxes, they do not vote for (council members), they vote for the county commissioners and the issues that they have would be better served speaking to their county commissioner who have jurisdiction,” Buston said. “City Council has no jurisdiction over this property.”
The issue was sent to the Lee County Commission.
“I just want to make it known that the city of Auburn has decided to not help the residents of southwest Auburn, is that correct?” McIntyre said. “We’ve asked you for your help and y’all decided not to join us, not to help us.”
Another Windover resident, Wilbur Jackson, later approached the Lee County Commission for help at its Sept. 30 meeting.
“One lady said she paid $5,000 to get her trailer moved in,” he said. “She’s been there three months. We’re trying to bring it to y’all’s attention. We went to Auburn, they sent us to the county.”
Residents who are displaced have to move their trailers to new parks; however, there is limited space in Auburn. And trailers over 10 years old often aren’t accepted in parks, according to Commissioner Sheila Eckman.
“One of the problems is that there are a lot of people there, so as they’re leaving, they’re filling up the few vacancies in the other places, so now there’s no place for them to go,” Eckman said.
Commissioner Richard S. LaGrand Sr. asked if eviction notices had been served, and an attendee of the meeting, L.B. Jackson, said that no formal evictions had been given.
Judge Bill English told the residents there is nothing the county can do.
“What I’m hearing from you is a private-property dispute between you and the guy that’s trying to make you get out and we don’t have any authority over something like that,” English said. “We don’t have zoning for instance, or planning out in the county like (Auburn does). I don’t know any way we could help you even if we all want to.”
Still, the residents persisted to make their cases to the commission and city throughout October and November.
Discussions were much the same as before, but LaGrand offered to sit down with Painter and report back to residents.
The park officially closed Nov. 1, and Painter began to block off some of the entrances, although the residents who remain can still get in and out.
“It’s nothing but five or six of us left,” said one of the residents at the Nov. 25 commission meeting. “He’s locking the gate, and then telling us we can’t get in. I mean we already ain’t got no money and nowhere to stay, and you can just come in and help the five or six of us (then) we would appreciate it.”
The commission has no legal authority to provide the financial means for the residents. The residents have asked, however, for the commission to work with Painter to provide the money.
“We do not have any authority to help private individuals out,” said County Administrator Roger Rendleman.
Commissioner Johnny Lawrence asked the residents to directly communicate with Painter, who said he’s lost money for years and can’t afford to help the remaining residents.
“I have to close my property because it has lost money the last three years,” Painter said. “Thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of dollars. We’ve had more people not pay than pay. Therefore, it is bad business. I do not have any savings left. There is no money.”