Friday, September 2, 2005

Housing Authority backs out of North Fork purchase

Express Staff Writer

The owners of the North Fork Store and mobile home park north of Ketchum are back to square one for considering how to proceed with the sale of their property. After racing to put together a funding package under an accelerated time frame, the Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority announced Thursday that it is unable to purchase the property.

The Housing Authority was hoping to use the property near the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters for a permanent affordable housing project. The organization's contract required it to commit to purchasing the site by Aug. 30.

"We no longer have the North Fork Store under contract," said Housing Authority Executive Director Michael David.

David said the housing board was unable to get the financing together to finalize purchase of the property after the purchase date was accelerated due to several conditions. The Housing Authority had agreed to a $3 million purchase price.

The main contingency that put the financing wheels in motion was the removal of fuel tanks at the store. Under the purchase agreement, the Housing Authority would be given 30 days to close on the property once the tanks were removed.

David said his office and the Housing Authority board are disappointed that the deal fell through.

"We put a lot of effort into it," he said. "Our concern is that in the not too distant future the same thing is going to happen as happened at the J&C trailer park."

The J&C Mobile Home Park, south of Ketchum, was one of the last remaining Wood River Valley trailer courts. Tenants were evicted from the park behind the Sun Valley Animal Center and Clear Creek Disposal offices on Highway 75 last September. There are about seven trailer parks remaining in the Wood River Valley, including the North Fork trailer park.

"If those residents are forced out and we're not involved, we won't have the same kind of ability to assist them in term of affordable housing," David said. He added that there is still a possibility to renegotiate if the owners, Sharon and Wallace Dowden, maintain an interest in working with the Housing Authority even though the current deal has fallen through.

After recent meetings with the owners and residents of the 42 mobile homes in the trailer park, business partners Kingsley Murphy, Nick Harman and Chris and Jackie Flanigan reported they made a counteroffer to the Dowdens in case the Housing Authority deal fell through. What resulted was an emotional roller coaster for the owners and residents in the last month as they sought to learn more about the Housing Authority's plans and those of Murphy and his colleagues.

The most vocal residents of the trailer park expressed concerns that they would soon be forced out of their homes with nowhere to go. Murphy had said his group would at least keep the trailer park open for another five to 10 years, with the numbers of available trailers being allowed to shrink through attrition. The Housing Authority board said no development at the trailer park would have begun before the 2007 construction season.

David said input from the public on how best to develop the trailer park would have been sought if the purchase had been finalized. In addition, he said priority would have been given to the current trailer park residents seeking community housing in the valley.

"I don't know where (the Dowdens) are," David said. "I don't know if there is an official back-up offer. I hope (the Dowdens) realize the good in what we were going to do."

Sharon Dowden said Thursday that she had not yet heard that the Housing Authority was not following through on the purchase agreement.

David said the Housing Authority is still interested in entertaining a purchase agreement with the Dowdens if talks can resume.

David said despite disappointment over the failed purchase agreement, publicity about the North Fork deal has helped get the message out about what the Housing Authority is trying to do in terms of establishing community housing. He noted that other property owners have been coming forward with ideas for community-housing projects.

Dowden said she did not know how she would proceed with the sale of the property. Murphy was unavailable for comment.

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