• Offers to sign 'public nuisance' complaint against county property
A citizen's complaint about a trash-filled mobile home park got a positive response Tuesday from the Brookings County Commission, but it also launched a discussion of an owner's rights on his property.
Beverly Jensen, a rural resident who works in Brookings, appeared before the commission to ask the group to do whatever it could to clean up the Southbrook Estates mobile home park just south of Brookings' city limits.
She got at least part of what she wanted, when commissioners Al Gregg and Dennis Falken agreed to visit Southbrook Estates this week to try to convince the owner to clean up the property.
"The living conditions of the tenants in this park were what raised a concern for me," Jensen told the commissioners. "I'm not ordinarily a person who would make an issue of this kind of thing, but it was really obvious that there are children living there, and it's just not a safe environment (for kids)."
Jensen said she had never visited the mobile home park "I didn't even know it existed" until a coworker commented about it, and curious, she and a friend visited the property.
"It's not a safe environment; it's not healthy," she said as she shared with the commissioners pictures of trash piles, abandoned mobile homes, washers and dryers left outdoors and heaps of dangerouslooking scrap metal.
Her chief concern was for the children living there, Jensen said.
"None of us lives in conditions like that, and none of us would allow any of our family members to live in conditions like that. "
"I'm not asking that this place be closed down. I'm just asking that it be cleaned up. I'm asking that the city and county get together and enforce the ordinance that's already in place." A long history
The commission and Zoning Director Bob Hill are familiar with Southbrook Estates. They have a long history with the mobile home park, having dealt with multiple problems of flooding, sewage spills and drinking water cutoffs over the past decade.
Kelly Koenig, owner of the park since 1997, acknowledged that some of what Jensen discussed is true, but he contends he's been steadily improving the park.
"We've made a substantial amount of improvements over the past couple of years," he said Wednesday. "We've made a tremendous improvement in removing rundown trailers. We've removed six mobile homes that were abandoned or in bad repair. But this is slow going it doesn't happen overnight."
Koenig defended his operation , stating that some of Jensen's pictures of trash and debris in the park area which Zoning Director Hill had shown and discussed with him were misleading.
One of the pictures of trash was from someone who had just moved and discarded some old furniture outdoors, he said.
"Most of what was photographed is already at the landfill." Can't change habits
In another case, Koenig noted that he can't change the habits of a tenant who is a hoarder. "The individual seems to want to live that way," the owner explained.
Koenig acknowledges park problems in the past but says he's worked diligently to solve them. He says Southbrook Estates consists of 58 lots, and the park is more than half occupied.
And while he defended himself against the charges made at the commission meeting , he said, "I appreciate feedback . I don't take offense to people bringing it to my attention ."
The park owner was supported in his contention by Commissioner Falken, who said he'd visited the mobile home court earlier, and some of the problem areas Jensen photographed "have already been taken care of."
Jensen, who disputed Falken's contention that significant progress had been made at Southbrook, agreed that "a lot of this mess comes from the tenants themselves."
"But if you lived in an environment of abandoned homes and abandoned vehicles, why would you make an attempt to clean it up yourself? This just perpetuates itself it perpetuates the cycle of poverty, and it's wrong. These kids don't have a fighting chance for anything better, and it makes me sad." Property rights?
While Falken is aware of ongoing problems with the South Main Avenue property, he is more concerned about property rights.
"We've tried to deal with this," he said. "This isn't the way I would live, and we shouldn't allow this, but we really don't , we can't dictate living conditions to people and how they want to live. " We can pick up some trash, but it isn't going to change conditions ."
He repeated several times he is concerned about the county's legal position, and what it can and should do regarding private property. Hill said he feels his hands are tied with regard to the trash cleanup, but he's taken action on a number of occasions when there have been sewage problems at Southbrook.
"We have a zero tolerance for that kind of thing," he said. With regard to the debris, he added, "I will enforce the nuisance ordinance to the best of my ability, with your (the commission's ) guidance."
Others on the commission were less patient. "How long have we been kicking this can down the road?" asked Gregg. "At least eight years, right? Most parks in town are kept in good order, but that all falls back on the owner. They're very picky about abandoned cars; they don't let them sit there. Is there any way we can put pressure on him, fine him personally, the owner?" Can county take action?
Hill said he felt he had no jurisdiction to take action at Southbrook Estates. "If I'm going to go after one landowner (to enforce a nuisance ordinance ), I'm going to have to go after 30,223 landowners. You can't use a nuisance ordinance to go after one selected person ."
Gregg responded: "What would it take to put together an ordinance that has some teeth in it? I guess I'd like to see us proceed down that path. Bev, sign the complaint to get the ball rolling. Just talking about it obviously hasn't gotten anything done. "This has been a failed project for years " we need something with some kind of bite a fine or something and we can let the money do the talking for us."
Others on the commission recognized the danger the debris poses to adult residents and children alike, and they'd like the park cleaned up, too. Deanna Santema, who noted "we can't sweep (this) under the rug," suggested the county might work out a deal with the city for a Southbrook Estates cleanup during "Dump Week." The group consensus was that although it won't change living conditions longterm , a general cleanup is the place to begin. How to proceed
As Gregg was arguing for action, Falken was arguing a go-slow approach. "I don't think we can make an ordinance (that would fine the owner)," he said. "You're going to get sued if you try to tell people how to live."
Gregg asked the zoning director to get together with his city counterpart to see what kind of ordinance the county would need to deal with these kinds of problems.
The discussion concluded with Hill's promise to report back to the commission and Falken and Gregg pledging to visit with the owner of the mobile home park this week to see what additional cleanup actions they might agree on.
Contact Ken Curley at kcurley@- brookingsregister.com.