St. Anthony’s vacant mobile home park is returning to its former use more than a year after nearly 100 families were forced to vacate the property — a closure that left some homeless and spurred most to leave the suburb in search of affordable housing.
The Lowry Grove mobile home park was emptied last year to make way for a much-debated high-density project slated to transform the site into apartments, senior housing and an assisted-living facility.
But that project has been tabled indefinitely after city officials indicated they likely would not provide tax-increment financing (TIF), developer Brad Hoyt said Tuesday.
Hoyt’s company, the Village, bought and closed Lowry Grove and is now suing the city of St. Anthony for fraud and civil conspiracy. It alleges that city officials induced the company “to close the mobile home park in order to rid the City of low-income, multicultural citizens that the City deemed undesirable.”
City Manager Mark Casey said in a statement that the city plans to fight the “ridiculous lawsuit.”
“The city sees this lawsuit as completely without merit,” Casey said. “Mr. Hoyt apparently made a horrible real estate transaction that displaced hundreds of honorable people and now wants to shift his losses onto the city, which is wrong and irresponsible.”
Casey declined to comment further, citing active litigation.
The federal lawsuit, filed Monday, accuses the city of leading the Village to purchase Lowry Grove for $6 million in 2016 without ever intending to approve the high-density project planned to take its place.
“Enough is enough,” Hoyt said Tuesday. “This is about a city … acting together in a conspiracy to commit fraud, the goal being to use us to rid them of the nonwhites and low-income people and make sure they don’t come back.”
In a fiery City Council meeting in October, St. Anthony city leaders voted down the developer’s 712-unit proposal, citing neighborhood criticism of the project’s scope and height.
Hoyt said his company then retooled the project, scaling back the density and proposing about 430 units instead. The Village submitted the lower-density plan, which the City Council approved in March, based on “promised TIF” assistance, according to the suit.
But at a May work session, a financial consultant’s memo advised city leaders that “the projects could be developed without any TIF assistance from the City,” city documents show.
Hoyt, who has sued other metro area cities over development projects, said that prompted the lawsuit.
“They double-crossed us again,” he said.
As residents fought to keep Lowry Grove open, its sale and closure has been embroiled in a marathon of litigation including a housing discrimination complaint that was later dismissed and a heated legal battle over whether the sale broke state law.
Most Lowry Grove families left St. Anthony in search of new housing after the park closed in June 2017, many displaced from homes too old or costly to move. Some, like Jason Mitchell, ended up homeless.
“I wandered around downtown not knowing what I was going to do,” said Mitchell, 40, who now lives with his mother in a mobile home two hours from the Twin Cities. “I think they are quite literally trying to eradicate poor people and Hispanics from this neighborhood.”
Bob Wargin, who lived in Lowry Grove for 26 years, said news of the park reopening left him angry but not surprised.
“It was mostly lower-income people. I think the city just didn’t want us there anymore,” said Wargin, 67. “It was probably in their eyes a blight on their beautiful little St. Anthony community.”
The park’s closing left families grieving the loss of their tight-knit neighborhood as well as their friend and neighbor Frank Adelmann, who took his own life days before the eviction deadline.
Hoyt said that he is among them. “I am haunted on a daily basis that I have blood on my hands because of the fact that I was drawn into this unwittingly and duped by the city,” he said Tuesday.
The mobile homes left behind were removed or torn down, and the Lowry Grove site had been vacant until some new houses recently appeared.
Hoyt said the first manufactured houses were moved back to the property in early June, with plans to bring in more street by street.
“Our only option is to get the park back to stable occupancy in its old configuration,” he said. “That is the only plan that is available to us.”