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Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park residents left in limbo

SYCAMORE – Kim Doty is trying to understand Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park owner Frank Santoro's motive for not selling the park as part of a DeKalb County buyout plan to address frequent flooding there.

"I just don't get it anymore," said Doty, a resident of the Sycamore park since 2001.

Although she and her partner of 33 years, Kim Brinkmeier, have seen their home damaged and she lost her grandmother's Christmas decorations, Doty considers them lucky compared with many of their neighbors.

The couple simply packs up and stays with Doty's parents in Genoa until the flood waters recede at the park at 955 E. State St.

"We've had to evacuate five or six times since we've lived here, but we have somewhere to go," Doty said.

Situated on the Kishwaukee River floodplain, DeKalb County officials said the 125-home mobile home park's fate now rests with Santoro. They have given Santoro until April 16 to accept their final offer of $1.47 million so they can finish the project by the grant deadline of June 30, 2015.

With $7.1 million available in grant funds from the federal and state emergency management agencies, county officials have negotiated with Santoro since October to purchase the property. County officials have budgeted about $3.73 million to relocate residents and about $1.9 million to purchase the mobile homes.

County Administrator Gary Hanson said the grant administrators locked those numbers in place.

"The grant was approved with these pieces based on federal rules and formulas," Hanson said.

County officials began pursuing a grant to buy the property after a 2007 flood that damaged many homes and forced the evacuation of the park. Another flood incident led the park to be closed in 2008.

The county originally received about $5.6 million for the project, but FEMA officials approved $1.5 million more to help the residents relocate, Hanson said.

County officials offered $1.47 million for the property, which includes 33 acres of farmland and about 6 acres of railroad right-of-way near it. After initially declining the offer, Santoro got his own appraisal of the property – $2.6 million – which county officials said state officials rejected. As of Wednesday, Santoro had not responded to the county's final offer of $1.47 million.

"We cannot allow the project to remain in limbo indefinitely, not only because there is a three-year deadline that is rapidly approaching, but because it is unfair to keep the residents on hold, not knowing when, or even if, the county might work with them to purchase their homes," wrote Hanson and county Planning Director Paul Miller in a letter to the DeKalb County Board.

Although the county could pursue other means of acquiring the property, such as eminent domain, that approach is not allowed under the terms of the grant, and there is no money in the county budget for it.

Park resident Frank Howden said residents are reminded of being on hold every time it floods. Howden spent part of Friday looking through debris from one of two demolished mobile homes in the park, looking for usable lumber.

"We're all scared," Howden said. "This was a wonderful park, but it's all a big mess now."

The park's maintenance man, Jeremiah Moore, said most residents are waiting for assistance.

"They can't just get up and go," Moore said. "They've got no money to just pick up and move."

Because he lives in the park, too, Moore said he can see both sides of the issue.

"I can't blame [Santoro] for fighting for every dime he can get," Moore said. "He's put more than 30 years into this park."

If the park closes, Moore said he would be out of a home and a job, but said the recurring damage to homes creates health hazards.

"I'll be the first one hurting," Moore said, "but what's right is right."

Although residents could sell their homes and move without relocation assistance, Doty said she wouldn't feel right about it.

"I couldn't, in good conscience, sell it to anyone else," Doty said. "We should have done our homework better when we bought it in 2001."

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