Sometimes, you've got to wait for a really good thing to blossom. Maybe even sit out some delays, suffer a little disruption. Take Sandpiper Park, for instance. For about 60 years, the sandy half acre on the corner of H and G in Arcata has been home to an assortment of come-and-go trailers, RVs, campers, motorhomes. And, through the years, it has evolved from troublesome ghetto to, under the ownership of Sue and Warren Morton, who had it 20 years before selling the place in 2007, a friendly community of homey semi-permanence. The Mortons added some sweet touches: a cluster of birdhouses in the trees on one corner, currently occupied with some chirpy nesters; a fence around the perimeter woven with pink wild rose, yellow-headed Dusty Miller and other flowering shrubs; and, in another corner, a stand of eucalyptus trees to which Warren grafted several clumps of the exotic, spiky leaved puya. The Mortons thoroughly screened would-be occupants and kept the park clean; it was a good place to live, especially if you didn't mind renting.
Then, in 2006, the Mortons agreed to sell Sandpiper to Resident Owned Parks, Inc. (ROP), a nonprofit based in Sacramento. Escrow closed in 2007, and another three years ambled by. Until last week, when everyone cleared out. Trailers, campers, RVs gone. All 20 spaces, some of which had been vacant awhile anyway, empty. And then Bob Hurney, resident manager of the park for the past six years, strung some pink-ribbon-bedecked cable across the driveways to keep folks out.
Consider this the budding phase. Because, come October, Sandpiper will begin to be reoccupied, this time with brand-new, one-bedroom "park model" homes that'll look more cottage than rollaway, with wood-like but sturdier Hardie cement board siding, front doors and front porches facing the streets, cathedral-type ceilings and peaked roofs.
"These will be much more like site-built homes that people would find in a neighborhood than in a ‘mobile home park' or ‘RV park,'" said Maurice Priest, president of ROP. "It'll be a little Cape Cod village, really, and each home will have its own driveway. And in the center of the park there'll be a courtyard with barbecue facilities."
The park will have 18 spaces for these 420-square-foot new homes, which are being made by Champion Home Builders and will be installed as-needed -- that is, as soon as someone buys them. Where the plain little dun-colored laundry room/single apartment now sits, there'll be a new building with a laundry room and office on the bottom floor and two studio apartments on the top floor. And when the people move in -- some former Sandpiper renters, some brand-new residents -- they'll be homeowners.
This was the plan agreed to in 2006, when the City of Arcata said it would help ROP buy the Sandpiper as well as the Arcata Mobile Home Park, on Alliance Avenue (which ROP also bought in 2007), on the condition that ROP maintain low-income housing in the parks as well as upgrade the properties. The city loaned ROP $300,000 to buy Sandpiper, said Nicole Boyse, the city's redevelopment project coordinator, last week. The city also plans to loan ROP, from different sources, the $865,932 estimated as the total project cost. This Wednesday, the Arcata City Council will hold a hearing on a proposal to loan ROP up to $450,500 of that total cost to install new pedestals for the homes, put in a gas line (no more propane tanks) and other utilities, and construct the new building. The $450,500 will come from the city's Home Investment Partnership Program Fund.
The park will provide nine units for moderate-income households, seven for low-income and four for very-low-income. The two studio apartments will be rentals. People wanting to live in a new, $50,000 mobile home at Sandpiper can apply for first-time-homebuyer financial assistance from the city.
"We've already got a stack of applications," Boyse said last week. "And we're accepting more."
Those who qualify for assistance to move into Sandpiper will have 30-year mortgages. Once those are paid off, the property will be owned by the homeowners association, comprised of the residents.
If the city's next loan to ROP is approved this week, construction will take place this summer, said Priest. "I think everyone involved thought that the transformation and the rehabbing of the property would occur sooner than it has," Priest admitted. "Much of the [delay] was dealing with the financial markets, and wanting to make sure there'd be meaningful financial assistance for people who want to live there."
A few former Sandpiper residents, including a family with young children, will stay on at Arcata Mobile Home Park, which is where several of them were relocated last week. It has bigger lots and a new playground in the works. It, too, will someday convert to a homeownership set-up.
Steve Kastner, who lived at Sandpiper for seven years, is one who's going back there. On Monday evening, the shy, fluffy bearded 59-year-old stepped outside of his 1989 red-striped white Road Ranger RV, parked for the summer at AMHP, to talk a bit about the transition. The last time he owned a home, he said, was in the '80s. Then he got divorced, lost his house and was laid off from his job making refrigerators for Whirlpool in Arkansas. He hit the road and traveled across the country eight times in his VW Beetle. Then he found Sandpiper. Moving out last week was stressful, he said. But at least he gets to return.
"I got my traveling over with now," he said. "I want to be more permanent, settle down. Especially in Arcata. I love Arcata."
Hurney, the resident manager, will also return. And he, for one, won't be sad that the old landscaping will be bulldozed and new stuff planted. "Those roses, the way they snag people, they were the best guard dog you could ask for," he allowed, laughing. "But I hate that puya. It's ugly. Although, once a year, it'll get a flower right in the middle of it, a huge flower five inches wide, and it's just beautiful."