100 people with nowhere to go Officials meet with trailer park owners in wake of eviction notices
by Jim Hague Reporter staff writer
Dec 18, 2007 | 813 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
More than 100 residents of a Tonnelle Avenue trailer park, who all received eviction notices last month and will need to find new sites to live, met with North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and township officials Wednesday night to see if there was something that the township could do to help them with their plight.

Many of the people who reside in the Manhattan Mobile Home Park on Tonnelle Avenue have been there for years and don't know where they are going to go.

A representative for the estate of park owner Irving Wassel officially gave the residents notice a month ago that the estate plans to sell the 5.2-acre parcel of land as soon as possible. The land is quite valuable for development now that there is a NJ Transit light rail station right next door.

Park owner Wassel died last year, and the representatives holding the estate want to act on moving the property as quickly as possible.

The trailer park owners were given an 18-month window to either remove their trailers or have them destroyed by the end of June, 2009.

So Sacco set up the meeting with the residents in order to discuss plans for the future.

Sacco, Township Attorney Herb Klitzner, and township tenant advocate Mike Antoniewicz represented North Bergen in the meeting with the residents.

Can't be residential right now

One of the first things that Klitzner told the residents is that they should legally form a homeowners' association from within the residents of the park.

"We told them that they could use our council chambers in Town Hall for whenever they wanted to hold a meeting," Klitzner said.

Next, Klitzner told the residents that they legally have the right to match the selling price that the estate is seeking for the land. Right now, it's believed that the property is on the market for an approximate $13 million.

It seems highly unlikely that these trailer owners, some of whom said they are on limited or fixed incomes, could afford that purchase price.

Klitzner also informed the trailer owners that right now, the land is not zoned for residential use.

The area is officially zoned for industrial use, because it was once a site for several different factories and businesses, before it became a trailer park in the 1970s.

By law, the owner cannot evict residents and then turn the property into residential use without two things, either a variance from the township or a quick deal from the original owner to a second owner, and then a third party getting involved.

So if Kaufman strikes a deal with an interested developer, the use would have to be strictly commercial for now.

NJ Transit, who owns the light rail station, has said they are not interested in purchasing the property.

"It seems to us that the best use would be residential, so perhaps that would be part of the negotiations," Klitzner said. "Right now, as it stands, the new owner cannot use it for its most valuable purpose [residential], unless the trailer owners waive their rights and allow them to build if they receive sufficient relocation fees."

Some of the trailer owners found the meeting to be informative and helpful.

"Let's see what they can do," said Dorothy DeCicco, who has resided in the trailer park for more than 30 years. "I know that they're willing to help us and I think they are already. They've come up with the answers to the questions we had. Now, we have to see what they can do. In a way, I feel better, because we have a Mayor and State Senator in our corner. I don't think we can do better than that. Who knows what's going to happen? Right now, it's still a very sad thing."

Klitzner is pretty sure that the township can be of assistance.

"We're going to work with the residents and cooperate any way we can," Klitzner said. "I think this was the first step."

However, it's evident that some of the trailer owners aren't willing to wait around for a settlement. Since the North Bergen Reporter first visited the Manhattan Mobile Home Park last month to report on the eviction notices, several trailers have already been moved.

After the meeting

"I thought the meeting went really well," Klitzner said. "It was well attended and it was very productive. We gave them all the options that we think they have."

Klitnzer has requested permission to speak with the representatives for the estate of Wassel, namely Paul Kaufman, in terms of whether there is any room for negotiation for monetary relocation assistance.

"It might make sense if we enter into negotiations on behalf of the tenants," Klitzner said.

The residents of the Manhattan Mobile Home Park believe that they are entitled to similar relocation fees that were given to the residents of a similar trailer park, located directly across Tonnelle Avenue from the Manhattan park, when it was purchased by NJ Transit three years ago, using their eminent domain rights, to make way for the light rail station.

However, while the owners of the park across the State Highway 1&9 were paid handsomely by NJ Transit to move a few years back, the residents of the Manhattan Mobile Home Park have not received a similar offer.

By law, the trailer park residents are not entitled to any mandatory compensation from the land owner. Once the trailer park residents are given sufficient 18-month notice, then they are basically on their own.

"I think one of the main objectives of the meeting was to dispel some of the myths and the rumors that are out there and get the residents to understand the reality," Klitzner said. "Maybe we can clarify the situation and eliminate some of the misunderstanding, especially with what happened on the other side of Tonnelle. They came to us for help and we have to help."

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or jhague@hudsonreporter.com
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