Cove residents start over

Sunday is the deadline for all residents to move out.
by: Vern Uyetake, Shirley Staley and her husband, Wayne, sit near a fire pit in West Linn made from the bricks of the retaining wall they built in the Willamette Cove. The Staleys are now living in a condo in a Tigard.

An old iron table screeched across the concrete, breaking the stagnant silence Saturday in Willamette Cove.

A woman dragged the table from a garage into a driveway, setting up for a garage sale. She sat expressionless amid a few possessions - golf clubs, books and a lamp.

But no one was shopping.

Close-by, a man - the only other person in the former manufactured home park - loaded muddy pieces of lumber into the back of his pickup truck.

He said his name was Mark, but declined to give his last name. Like the woman and many others contacted this week about the Cove, he said he was tired of talking about it, that he was ready to move on.

'It's too bad. This was such a special place,' was all he said before continuing to load his truck.

Willamette Cove, former home to more than 65 residents, will be emptied completely by Sunday, the deadline given by the Cove's landowner, Jerry Jennings.

Jennings is planning to convert the land into 71 separate homes, each to be built on 4,500-square-foot lots.

At press time, a majority - if not all - the residents of the park have relocated. Some sold their houses; some moved their houses.

Neither Jennings, his attorney nor former mediators for the residents said they knew exactly how many people were left in the park.

A visitor to the park this past weekend saw a mostly deserted park.

A row of neatly manicured shrubs divided two large pit-like craters where neighboring homes once sat.

Like wreckage from a hurricane, an old fridge, tires, cardboard, old carpets and furniture litter the park, along with a few downed trees.

The mobile homes that are left are cut in half, poised on cement blocks, waiting to be moved.

Starting over

After receiving eviction notices in December 2005, former residents of the park have scattered throughout the Portland Metro area - to Milwaukee, Tigard, Donald, Oregon City, Canby - and they are living in many forms of housing: residential, condos, apartments and assisted-living facilities. But they are still keeping in touch.

'Tuesday morning is still coffee morning and there are still potlucks,' said former Cove resident Shirley Staley. 'We've had so many people over from Willamette Cove already.'

Staley, 70, and her husband sold their manufactured home and moved into a condo near Tigard.

The couple lived in the Cove for two years before landowner Jerry Jennings closed the park for redevelopment of the property.

While Cove residents owned heir manufactured homes, they did not own the land beneath them.

Staley - like others that lived in the Cove - suffered financial losses with the close of the city's only manufactured home park, approximately $70,000, she said.

'We practically gave it away,' Staley said.

Former resident Fern Laski lost more than $50,000 in the sale of her home. Manufactured homes are built in a factory, transported to a site and installed there.

The cost of moving a manufactured home is often expensive and the resale value often is much lower than its original price.

But both Staley and Laski said they are thankful for their experiences at the park.

'Worse things can happen. You look around and see the tragedies - people lose children, so many worse things,' said Laski, 74, who relocated to an apartment in Lake Oswego. 'As much as I regret leaving the park I'm not going to let it affect my future years.'

The women spoke fondly of their time in Willamette.

'I enjoyed the beauty of (the Cove) and the people. Within two weeks of living there we felt so much at home. We were so welcome. It was a unique place,' said Staley. 'Now it looks as though it's been a war.'

Dave Adams, whose parents lived in Willamette Cove for 14 years, moved their manufactured home to his West Linn property and constructed a Willamette Cove memorial garden.

'I have bits and pieces of dozens of gardens,' Adams said. 'The seniors had so much pride in creating the lovely environment that they lived in. Their landscaping was a big part of that.'

Adams said hundreds of plants were donated as residents moved from the Cove. Adams said he wanted to keep a part of the Cove alive.

'It's a small gesture to them to try to create a certain part of their dreams and hopes alive,' said Adams. 'They would talk about who had the best roses this year, and whose 'rhodie' had the biggest blooms.'

Adams said he is building a fire pit and barbecue area on the property and is using some of Staley's stonework. He said the area will be used for Willamette Cove reunions.

'Losing your money and your house is one thing,' said Adams, 'but at their age, losing that sense of community is hard.'

Holding the agreement

Cove residents, Jennings and the City of West Linn signed a settlement agreement months back which states that Jennings will pay $8,500 to the owners of each manufactured home that was on the property in December 2005.

Cove residents who have sold or moved their manufactured home since Dec. 2, 2005 have 90 days to request their termination payment of $8,500 and Jennings will pay within 30 days of the request, the agreement states.

Residents still living on the property can request their payment from Jennings when they move or sell their house and Jennings will pay 30 days after that request. According to the agreement, Cove residents who abandon their home when the park closes are still eligible to receive $8,500 and must request payment by Dec. 10.

Stuart Brown - the attorney representing the Cove residents - said that he believes everyone has submitted their request for payment.

Jennings' attorney said they are coordinating payments.

'Everyone is aware of the time tables. We want to make sure that everyone that needs to get paid, gets paid,' said Mark Busch, real estate attorney representing Jennings. 'We're working on processing this. I don't know if there are any (individuals) not paid.'

Jennings said he still owns the Cove land and also said he understands the need to pay its residents in a timely fashion.

'Everyone that's requested payments has gotten paid according to the terms of our agreement,' Jennings said.

Converting the Cove

Before it was a manufactured home park, the Cove land was a sandpit used for the construction of Interstate 205. In 1991 the land became home to seniors.

In the summer of 2005, Jennings was offered $9.8 million from a local developer for the property. Residents rallied to keep their homes at the Cove - often with picket signs and by lobbying the state Legislature.

Residents offered more than $5 million to buy the land, on which their homes sat and operate Willamette Cove as a cooperative, but Jennings refused the offer.

In July 2005, the developer withdrew his $9.8 million offer.

Now, all rental agreements will be terminated and Cove residents must be moved from the property Dec. 10.

The land is planned for conversion to 71 separate homes upon 4,500 square foot lots.

Since the Cove is somewhat secluded from Willamette Falls Drive due to landscaping, the new development will look fairly similar to the manufactured home park, the only difference being that the new, two-story houses may be more visible from the roadside.

The manufactured home park is accessible by one road - Jenny Lane. The new development will have two entrances, according to Peter Spir, associate planner with the City of West Linn.

'I suspect changes (to the Cove property) won't occur until the summer of 2007,' said Spir. 'Of course it's all speculation at this time. First we'll see the utilities and the lift of the road and then see (new) houses being built.'

As the last homes are moved from the Cove, residents continue to adjust to their new surroundings and housing.

'We have a mortgage now,' said Staley. 'I'm thankful to have a place to call home where the land can't be sold from under us. We really are blessed. … So life begins at 70 now - again.'