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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : City Will Buy Trailer Park to End Legal Dispute : Land: Lancaster conflict arose when owner initially refused offer for site needed to accommodate road improvement project.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The City Council has voted to buy a mobile home park for $1.3 million as a way to end a 2-year-old legal battle that erupted when the city began building a badly needed highway overpass near the park.

By a 4-0 vote Monday night, the council approved the purchase of the Whispering Elms Mobile Home Park, 241 W. Ave. L, making it the fourth such park acquired by the city over the past year. The council approved the purchase with little discussion and no objections from the owner or residents.

Council members said it was the best way to end the legal dispute and to continue with efforts to preserve and upgrade affordable housing in Lancaster.

“This is the best move for the city,” said Councilman Michael Singer. “It gives the city a much better position to work from.”

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The dispute began in 1992 when Lancaster officials said they needed to widen Avenue L as it passes by Whispering Elms to accommodate the bridge.

Robert Dowell, who owned the mobile home park with several family members, rejected an offer of $42,250 that year, city staff members said. As a result, the city initiated condemnation proceedings in December, 1992, but continued to negotiate with Dowell over the price of the land.

While these talks continued, the city took possession of the land and used it during construction of the Avenue L overpass, which opened in the spring. The bridge carries traffic over busy Sierra Highway and the adjacent railroad tracks, helping to link the city’s east and west sides.

Meanwhile, the city and Dowell had been slated to meet in court this month to hash out the land price. If the trial had gone forward, a jury might have awarded the Dowell family a sum that far exceeded the city’s offer, said Steven H. Dukett, the city’s redevelopment director.

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In his talks with the city, however, Dowell offered to settle the dispute by selling the entire 78-space mobile home park to the city for $1.3 million.

Dukett said the city’s appraiser concluded that the park was worth $1.2 million before the overpass was built, making Dowell’s price 9% higher than the appraised value. However, this price was within the settlement guidelines approved by the council in June, Dukett said.

Council members said acquiring the entire park was a better business deal than merely paying Dowell a large sum for a small piece of land already taken for the overpass project.

The park will be purchased with redevelopment funds that, under state law, must be used for housing projects benefiting people with low and moderate incomes. Dukett said a city inspector will soon review the park and order repairs as part of the city’s takeover.

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Lancaster will use $160,000 in annual rent payments from the tenants to pay for improvements at the park, he said. Whispering Elms will be managed by an Orange County company that already administers the three mobile home parks acquired earlier by the city.


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