Owner makes strides in sprucing up neglected Lower Burrell mobile home park
Marketing Hill Crest Crossings as a community of manufactured homes — instead of calling it a trailer park — is a representation of the change in perception the Lower Burrell development's new owner hopes to establish.
Jason Dempsey, president of Safe Harbor Communities, said the 87 tenants of Hill Crest Crossings, formerly Traders Path, will see improvements in the coming weeks.
“It's going to be a different world,” Dempsey said.
On a recent afternoon, Dempsey was in town from his home base near Philadelphia to offer a tour of the 80-acre property off Spooky Hollow Road. He was joined by Lower Burrell Mayor Don Kinosz and representatives of Noralco Corp., the company hired to raze and remove 45 abandoned mobile homes. About 10 trailers were removed previously.
Other improvements have included fixing potholes in the community's private roads and plans to spruce up the leasing office, turn part of it into a community center and create a playground in a tree-covered space behind it.
Dempsey said they'll offer a low-cost home-improvement program to current residents to help with landscaping, painting and other maintenance issues people may not be able to tackle on their own.
“Our goal is to provide everyone with a clean and affordable place to live,” Dempsey said.
City welcomes change
Kinosz said he's pleased with Dempsey's commitment to cleaning up and clearing out — in terms of both dilapidated buildings and problem tenants that have resulted in perennial police calls to the neighborhood.
“Everything we've asked of Jason, it gets done,” the mayor said.
Kinosz recalled a meeting with residents at city hall after Safe Harbor assumed ownership of the park in April 2013.
“They really challenged Jason (on how he was going to improve the community),” Kinosz said. “You could feel the energy in the room. People were excited.”
Safe Harbor, a 3-year-old business that operates a mobile home park in Northumberland County, too, spent much of the past year working through the legal process of evicting people who weren't paying rent or otherwise abiding by park rules.
Dempsey said the company needed time to get a handle on the status of the park and its residents before it could begin some of the more physical improvements.
During Dempsey's tour with the mayor, a woman approached with a concern about a resident who she feared was dangerous and had been involved in police incidents. Kinosz and Dempsey assured her eviction proceedings were pending.
Records filed through District Judge Cheryl Peck-Yakopec's office show Safe Harbor has pursued landlord-tenant complaints against about two dozen residents in the past year.
Now that Safe Harbor is entering the phase of sprucing up the community, Dempsey said the company is starting to market Hill Crest Crossings in hopes of filling up more of the 200 pads, fewer than half of which are occupied.
“It's a big opportunity for us to come in and ‘right-size' it,” Dempsey said.
Westmoreland County deed records show Dempsey's company, operating under the limited partnership DDB Traders Path Crossing LP, acquired the property from Traders Path Crossings LLC by agreeing to assume the remaining $2.1 million on the previous owner's mortgage.
The park was at risk of being sold at a county sheriff's sale in 2010 because the prior owners defaulted on the mortgage.
Dempsey estimated Safe Harbor will spend $100,000 on improvements.
Jim Walker, Dempsey's property manager, recently escorted representatives from Noralco, the company that demolished Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, through the park to identify the trailers to be dismantled and removed.
“I could write a book” on past problems at the community, said Walker, who has lived in the park for 21 years.
He's not the only one looking forward to change.
“I do see a lot of improvement now that Jason's involved,” said Joe Chernan, a resident since 1990. “They got rid of a lot of people that didn't pay their rent and trashed the place.”
Fixing potholes, landscaping and clearing out rundown trailers will make a difference, Chernan said.
“It seems like to me they're putting the right foot forward,” he said. “They've come a long way.”
Rick Stump and his fiancee, Rhonda Wolfe, said they are anticipating the removal of abandoned trailers surrounding their home, which has been in Stump's family since 1990.
“If they get rid of the vacant trailers, that would be great,” Wolfe said.
Stump said he hopes Dempsey considers adding a second entrance into the park to improve access in case of an emergency.
The development's roads all stem from one access road onto Spooky Hollow Road.
The community is set into a hillside; from the top, Dempsey said, residents will have quite a view when they're no longer looking out at blight.
Safe Harbor will bring in model homes for prospective residents interested in renting or buying; a three-bedroom model is available for viewing near the community's entrance.
Dempsey said mobile homes can start at as little as $5,000 for a used model; newer models can cost $30,000, depending on size and amenities.
Lot rent, which includes water and sewer hookups plus garbage collection, costs $265 per month.
Dempsey said his company is looking to develop more communities in the Pittsburgh area. Although Safe Harbor is a relatively new enterprise, Dempsey said, he's worked in the real-estate business for about 14 years.
“The city of Lower Burrell has been extremely welcoming,” Dempsey said. “We're excited to be here. We're looking to grow.”
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.