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Trust may buy, upgrade trailer park in Waltham

WALTHAM — The Addison County Community Trust (ACCT) is seeking funding for and the support of the town of Waltham to buy and rebuild Gevry Trailer Park as a permanent site for 14 new affordable manufactured homes.
The 2.3-acre park sits on Maple Street on the Vergennes city line and has frontage on Otter Creek. The park’s last tenant moved out last year, said ACCT Executive Director Terry McKnight, who has had his eye on the site for years as a place to provide housing for moderate- and low-income families and seniors.
McKnight has met with the Waltham Planning Commission to talk about the plan. He hopes Waltham will be the lead applicant for a $375,000 Vermont Community Development Block Grant that would fund about half the cost of buying the property, cleaning it up, redoing its infrastructure and landscaping it.
A public hearing to unveil the plan’s details and discuss whether Waltham should apply for the grant will be held on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Waltham Town Hall.
Waltham’s town plan supports affordable housing in the area, although there is some question whether the 14 units that once populated the Gevry Park are grandfathered or whether Waltham would have to change zoning to accommodate the plan.
McKnight said he believes planners like the idea, which calls for manufactured and doublewide homes to replace the smaller singlewide mobile homes the park has housed.
“I’ve met with the Waltham planning commission and talked with them. In their new town plan they certainly want to have affordable housing in their town, and they’ve always viewed this site as a site where affordable housing was available in the town,” he said.
Waltham zoning administrator Tom Langeway said he believes the town would seriously consider changing zoning in the area to accommodate ACCT’s plans. Langeway said an upgraded park with the bigger, newer homes would generate more tax revenue, and that officials and residents would back the return of affordable housing to the now-empty park.
“I don’t think it would take long (for a zoning change),” Langeway said. “All the town is 100 percent behind it.”
Both Langeway and McKnight pointed to one possible hitch: McKnight said he and owners Rheal and Gail Gevry have agreed on a price, but do not have a deal, and Langeway said the Gevrys may still be trying to strike a better deal.
McKnight remains optimistic because the land probably has a higher value with 14 units than with the other choice, one or possibly two home lots.
“The value of the land is nowhere near as high for a few units as it is for 14 units,” he said. “What we’re proposing to do there is in essence the highest and best use of the property.”
Funding is also an issue. The block grant, if obtained, would get the ACCT about halfway there. McKnight said with that money in hand only a few smaller funding sources would be needed because lot rents — projected at $250 a month — would help pay off a mortgage that ACCT could take out.
“This park, once it’s operating with 14 units, and certainly before that, really, can pay down a mortgage,” he said.
ACCT already owns and operates nine parks with 350 lots, including the nearby Otter Creek Park in Vergennes, its largest; Middlebury’s Lindale park and facilities in Bristol, Starksboro and Ferrisburgh, among others, all operate in the black, McKnight said.
“The goal is making homes available long-term for people, homes they can rely upon. And that requires (parks) be operated like a business,” he said.
To ACCT, a particular attraction of Gevry Park is that it is hooked up to Vergennes sewer and Vergennes-Panton water. McKnight said that infrastructure brings certainty to the project, both in cost and in the knowledge that future septic problems won’t reduce the number of available sites.
ACCT plans to redo the roads and provide phone and power to each site as well as water and sewer. A typical upfront investment for a prospective homeowner might range from $50,000 to $100,000, depending on whether a used or new home was placed on what kind of foundation.
Members of the target market will typically earn the median income — about $62,000 for a family of four  — or less. Funding sources for such housing typically require that homeowners “share equity on resale,” McKnight said, thus allowing the homes to be re-sold for less than market value and maintaining them as “permanently affordable for low- and moderate-income residents.”
McKnight expects demand for sites to run high.
“At any given time we really don’t have any empty spaces for people to move into. We might have across that whole portfolio (of 350 park spaces) five or six, and that’s kind of a turnover number,” he said. “That’s like having a vacancy rate of 1 percent or 1.5 percent.”
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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