Aurora Mobile Home Park Residents Win Reprieve From Gentrification — for Now

Shawn Lustigman testified against a ten-month mobile home redevelopment moratorium at Aurora City Council on March 26.
Shawn Lustigman testified against a ten-month mobile home redevelopment moratorium at Aurora City Council on March 26. Aurora TV
Residents of an Aurora trailer park have won a years-long fight to prevent the redevelopment and closure of the Denver Meadows Mobile Home & RV Park. But the fight isn’t over yet.

Aurora City Council has unanimously approved a ten-month moratorium on all mobile home park redevelopment in the city. Council will have to vote on the ordinance a second time (a legal requirement), most likely in April, for the moratorium to go into effect for the city's twelve mobile home parks totaling about 800 units.

“We have a vested interest as a city council representing our community to make sure we are not displacing community members," said Aurora City Council member Crystal Murillo of Ward 1, which encompasses Denver Meadows, at a council meeting.

Denver Meadows residents have been organizing since 2016 to stop the owner from redeveloping the park and displacing residents. In 2016, owner Shawn Lustigman applied for a zone change as part of the process to sell his property to developers, saying he was looking for someone to take the property off his hands so he could retire after thirty years as the park owner. After resident pushback, city council voted to table the rezoning measure in July 2016. Two years later, Denver Meadows residents again successfully lobbied councilmembers to preserve their mobile home park, which is located in a quickly gentrifying part of Aurora and is bordered by the Colfax Station, Anschutz Medical Center and I-225.

Maria Dolores Chavez moved into Denver Meadows Park in 2015, a couple of years after being displaced from another mobile home park. Months after moving in, she learned that she could lose her home once again. Chavez has been fighting to save the park ever since.

“[The park manager] told me nothing was going to happen, everything was going to be okay,” Chavez related at the council meeting through an interpreter about her initial hesitancy to move into the park. “I figured out in May [of 2016] they wantd to change the zone. Since then, my life at Denver Meadows has been very difficult. ... I have the hope of being able to stay in my home, to continue to purchase it and not be displaced once again.”

But the ten-month moratorium is only a brief reprieve for residents, not a final solution. The park was already scheduled to close on September 30, and it’s unclear if Lustigman will still close the park given that it can’t be redeveloped. The moratorium runs from May 20 to March 20, 2019, pending the second council vote next month.

Lustigman and his lawyer declined to comment for this story.

Lustigman did, however, attend the Monday night council meeting to voice his opposition to the moratorium. He said residents have known of his intent for two years, since the failed zone change in 2016.

“I’m the only owner in the state of Colorado that gave their residents two years to move instead of six months," Lustigman said to city council members. “I notified the tenants [in 2016] if they don’t move out, I’m going to shut down the park in the next two years. … What are you going to accomplish with this moratorium that you didn't accomplish in the last two years? That's all I want to know."

A moratorium does not stop Lustigman from closing or selling the park, but it would prevent any new development on the 20.4-acre property since it is zoned for mobile homes. Any other land use, like the “transit-oriented development” Lustigman applied for in 2016, has to be approved by city council, which could make his property less desirable to developers.

And while a moratorium may not directly solve the impending closure, residents are hoping it could bring Lustigman back to the negotiating table. Would he just sit on empty lots for six months until the moratorium is up in 2019? Will there be future policies that would hinder redevelopment? These unknowns might make Lustigman reconsider closing the park, or so residents hope.

Denver Meadows residents offered Lustigman $20.5 million last fall with the help of a nonprofit to buy the property. Lustigman refused the deal, asking for $27.5 million for the property that includes the mobile homes and $60 million for the full twenty-plus acres.

“We’re okay with [Lustigman] retiring, but it’s about how long he’s going to hold out,” says Andrea Chiriboga-Flor of Colorado 9to5, who has been helping organize Denver Meadows residents. “It’s a lot more delays in his plans than he thought would have come to fruition two years ago when he originally tried to rezone the park.”

The moratorium is just part of a two-pronged strategy to pressure Lustigman into selling Denver Meadows to residents. Lustigman is fending off a lawsuit in Adams County Court, where he is being accused of “a pattern of abuse, harassment and retaliatory behavior” particularly against residents involved in resisting redevelopment efforts, according to the lawsuit filed in January by fourteen residents and the park homeowners’ association.

Residents, housing organizers and officials recognized at the city council meeting that Aurora is facing an affordable-housing shortage, and officials admitted that mobile home and RV parks are important sources of unsubsidized housing for working-class families who can’t afford the new housing stock cropping up in the city.

As part of the moratorium, city officials will convene a task force to look at affordable housing and the role that mobile homes could play in providing such housing in Aurora. The task force will convene once a final decision is made on the moratorium.
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Nora Olabi covers general and breaking news for Westword with an emphasis on politics and local government. Prior to making her way to the Front Range and joining Westword in 2017, she worked at major Houston newspapers. She's a proud Houstonian who's acclimating to snow and mountain living.
Contact: Nora Olabi