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Top 10: License revoked, license reinstated, RV Horizons remains in Houlton

Donna Fjelstad stands outside of her home in St. Croix Meadows. John R. Russett / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 4
The expired facility license, still posted in late July. John R. Russett / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 4
On Thursday, Sept. 13, Town of St. Joseph Town Board unanimously voted to renew the license for Houlton MHP, LLC, through June 30, 2019. Houlton MHP, LLC, is a subsidiary of RV Horizons, which owns and operates St. Croix Meadows RV Park in Houlton. John R. Russett / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 4
One of the vacant mobile homes at St. Croix Meadows in late July. John R. Russett / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 4

Editor's note: This story is part of a series looking back at some of the biggest stories of 2018. Find the rest of the series here: Top Ten 2018.

Since Colorado-based RV Horizons purchased Houlton's St. Croix Meadows RV Park in the fall of 2015, Town of St. Joseph Town Board has twice voted to deny renewal of the park's operating license, citing various infractions including failure to pay its bills to the city.

Both votes — the first in June 2017 and the second in June 2018 — were reversed, allowing the company's continued presence in the community.

"I wish I could change what's happened in the past," RV Horizons district manager Rod Engh told town officials in September before they voted to reinstate the license. "I can't. But I can say that it's going to get better — I promise."

What preceded the vote was nearly two years of back-and-forth between Houlton MHP, LLC — the subsidiary created by RV Horizons to run St. Croix Meadows RV Park — and town officials on the company's failures to meet its obligations to the town.

Town Board meeting minutes show a stretch from April 2017 through September 2017 where the board had nine meetings that involved Houlton MHP leading up to and following the June 20, 2017, decision to deny Houlton MHP's license renewal for the first time, citing formally requested documents that were not submitted.

The problem persisted for the following year, as well, which led the board again to deny the park's license renewal in June 2018.

"My concern has always been the monthly reporting, the time that we spent trying to track those funds down," Town of St. Joseph Supervisor Steve Bohl explained at the September meeting.

Mark Hazelbaker, attorney with Kasieta Legal Group, LLC, in Madison, attended the Sept. 13 meeting on behalf of RV Horizons along with Engh.

"When you voted to non-renew the license, you got the message across," he said. "A lawyer was dispatched to listen to your complaints, I relayed those complaints, you have a different manager now. I think you can see that things are changing."

In September, then-St. Joseph Town Board Chair Thomas Spaniol confirmed by email to RiverTown Multimedia that to his knowledge, RV Horizons was current on their payments to the town. Spaniol resigned in October and Supervisor Theresa Johnson was selected as the new chair.

Houlton MHP, LLC, has appeared on the Town of St. Joseph Town Board agenda each of the last three months, though town officials did not immediately respond to request for comment on whether the park management has upheld the promises made in September.

In the few months since the license reinstatement, St. Croix Meadows resident Donna Fjelstad said little has changed.

Fjelstad and her family purchased a manufactured home and moved into St. Croix Meadows in July 2017.

Within the first month, according to Fjelstad, her family experienced a variety of ailments ranging from bumps on their skin to diarrhea and vomiting and by August 2017, she began to question the quality of the water in her home.

In late August, almost two months after the park's license expired, community resident and former St. Croix Meadows on-site manager Beau Freese said he started to see work done around the community.

The only problem, Freese said, was the majority of the work seemed to be cosmetic.

"But now since they had (the license revoked), it seems like they're scrambling, throwing money here and there just to make it look pretty, because when they came by, they're cutting trees up front," he said at the time. "The things that you do see them doing, it doesn't feel like — that's not really important right now. Get other things done. I don't — we don't care about landscaping upfront, we don't care if it looks pretty upfront right now. We want to get the infrastructure built better."

One example of issues faced by some community residents is the story of Ronda Moline.

Moline lived in her home for approximately 12 straight months without running water.

With no solution to the problem in sight, she stopped rent payments in April 2016.

One month later she was served with an eviction notice and taken to court.

The problem began in April 2015 and was not resolved until January 2017, when the court dismissed the eviction case and upheld her counterclaim. Water was restored and she was not responsible for the nine months of rent she withheld.

Since the mid-1990s, manufactured home communities have shifted largely from locally owned entities to ownership by multi-state corporations, according to Shandra BP-Weeks, one of three organizing directors for MHAction, a national movement of manufactured homeowners pushing back against the consequences of corporate ownership.

"There's not a clear process at most of these companies for residents to make their concerns heard," BP-Weeks said. She added many corporate models are designed with a focus on a return for investors as opposed to quality of life improvements for residents.

While some corporate owners make a point to maintain local management, she said a growing trend is to consolidate parks under one manager by purchasing multiple parks in the same area.

"I think that the management style is something that seems to be sort of led by RV Horizons, so we've seen recently that a couple other companies are starting to do that," she said. "So this is definitely a pattern we've seen with them in that they've mentioned on their mobile home university website as a good strategy with buying mobile homes to buy them in regions so they can share managers between the communities."

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett

 

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