St. Jones Landing residents file suit against developer

MAGNOLIA — Time is running short for residents contesting an ongoing project that will uproot them from their manufactured homes.

George Makdad and Breanna Waltz filed a Chancery Court lawsuit against St. Jones Landing, LLC., on Feb. 14.

They are seeking to halt construction of housing they believe is not changing use of land, only illegally improving it at their expense.

On Aug. 22, 2016, Mr. Makdad received an eviction notice letter from defendant K-4 Management. The letter notified him of the company’s intention to build apartment style housing, thus forcing him to relocate by Aug. 31, 2017.

According to Mr. Makdad, the letter’s second page noted a deadline of March 31, 2017, to leave his residence.

Five new mobile homes on Marshview Drive at St. Jones Landing near Magnolia. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

No matter when they are mandated to depart, the residents maintain that the company is planning to replace their homes with newly constructed manufactured residences and violating Delaware Code with no change of use for the land.

Defendant Delaware Manufactured Home Relocation Authority (DMHRA) has already authorized some moving expense payments to residents vacating St. Jones Landing, which the plaintiffs allege is a state code violation based on knowledge of the replacement homes not altering land use.

The Delaware Manufactured Home Owners Association (DMHOA) is also listed as a plaintiff.

The lawsuit noted that St. Jones Landing owner Andy Strine was a board member of the DMHRA that “continued to authorize thousands of dollars in payments for moving expenses.”

Mr. Strine voted to “authorize payments for moving expenses knowing that there was no change of land use for St. Jones Landing,” the plaintiffs allege.

Attempts to reach Ms. Waltz and Mr. Strine on Wednesday were not immediately successful.

The lawsuit cites a media report apparently indicating Mr. Strine’s intention to continue operation as a manufactured home park, along with plans submitted to the Kent County Division of Inspections & Enforcement indicating the same.

According to the plaintiffs, ownership is “not making a material and bonafide effort to change the subdivision plan or zoning designation.”

Absent a conversion plan filed with the Delaware Attorney General’s office, Recorder of Deeds and DMHOA, the suit contends the eviction plans are unlawful.

Until a legal decision is rendered, according to the plaintiffs, all new construction at St. Jones Landing should be suspended pending a court determination.

Better land use?

In a letter to residents on March 4, 2016, K-4 Management indicated that “[w]ith the new rent justification law and increasing regulatory burden placed on mobile home parks, we must find a better use for this land.

“The intended future use is an apartment style lease project.”

The company offered to “facilitate the entire move” if a resident relocated to one of its other communities, and provide three months of credit toward lot rent.

“The expense of moving your home will be at no cost to you through the Delaware Relocation Trust Fund,” according to the letter.

“If your home is non-relocatable, and you purchase a home from us in another one of our communities, we will give you a credit of 50 percent of your down payment up to a maximum of $2,500.”

The letter was intended as a one-year written notice of lease termination to meet Delaware Code, according to ownership.

Also included was a contact list of manufactured homes within a 25-mile radius of St. Jones Landing, including lots in Dover, Clayton, Hartly, Smyrna and Magnolia. Other options for senior citizens and persons with disabilities were listed in Smyrna, Camden, and Dover.

Government and community relocation-related agency contact information was also included.

According to the DMHOA in a letter to the DMHRA on Aug. 22, 2016, some tenants used relocation payout money to pay back taxes in violation of the expressed purpose of the funds.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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