Trailer park at center of fight in Lake City

A warning stickers tells visitors to one of the homes in the Royal Oak Trailer Park has been deemed “unfit for human habitation.” Similar warning stickers were on many of the homes in the trailer park.

A warning stickers tells visitors to one of the homes in the Royal Oak Trailer Park has been deemed “unfit for human habitation.” Similar warning stickers were on many of the homes in the trailer park.

— Battle lines were drawn in Lake City Friday morning over whether an abandoned trailer park should be refurbished or done away with.

The city council and City Manager Joel Lanken asserted that they were opposed to letting a trailer park stay at the old Royal Oak site at the corner of Jonesboro and Rex roads.

Stryant Investments LLC principal Atticus LeBlanc argued that a trailer park was the best use of the site because of its shape and rocky terrain. Stryant recently bought the property, which had been abandoned in foreclosure for nearly two years, with plans to re-open it as a trailer park even though city zoning ordinances bar such a use.

In the end, Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt told LeBlanc that each side had effectively agreed to disagree on the matter.

“Both sides know where we are on this issue,” said Oswalt. “You’re an expert in what you do and we’re experts on Lake City.”

The issue has the potential to move from the council’s chambers to a courtroom as Stryant Investments challenges the city’s decision to not grant them an operating license on the basis that it is a “nonconforming use” of the property.

After LeBlanc met with the council to discuss the issue, city officials went into executive session with their attorney, Steve Fincher, to discuss legal strategy on the issue. Fincher was unsure of whether the city could end up fighting with Stryant in court over the trailer park.

“It’s too soon to tell,” he said.

At the center of the battle is Lake City’s efforts to generate new economic development along Jonesboro Road. At the southern end of that stretch is the University Village development, which county officials are working to get developers to build on. Just north of the trailer part is a shopping center for which a developer is planning a major renovation.

Lanken said the city does not include a trailer park in its plans. The property is no longer zoned for use as a trailer park.

“Before you blink, in a year or two, the city is going to be revitalized and certainly a trailer park does not fit in with that at all,” Lanken told LeBlanc.

Lanken later said orange stickers declaring each trailer unfit for human habitation were put on the trailers “several months ago” by Lake City public works employees. The trailer park went into foreclosure nearly two years ago and was taken over by the FDIC, which owned it until Stryant bought it a few months ago. It is part of the city’s Gateway zone, named for University Village’s original Gateway Village moniker.

But LeBlanc asked city leaders to trust his investment firm to revamp the property while attempting to assure them that it won’t become an eyesore.

“Can we wash the duckling and make it an efficient use of property, and make it something that’s not an eyesore for you guys? Absolutely,” said LeBlanc. “We’ve done that many times before and I can point you to many examples where we’ve done that ... We’re not slum lords.”

He stressed that his company sees a trailer park as the best use available for the site. At one point, he cited the property’s shape as an issue. It wraps around a car dealership on the corner of Jonesboro and Rex roads and snakes north behind other businesses on Jonesboro Road.

LeBlanc later added that inspectors have found the ground to be filled with several rocks, which he argued would make it difficult to build new structures on the property.

He also offered to have his firm do whatever it needs to prove the site is best served by remaining a trailer park. That includes bringing in a developer — who would be chosen by city officials — to asses the property’s potential uses.

“I’m willing to get anyone you deem a worthwhile developer,” LeBlanc said.

But Oswalt said LeBlanc was aware of the city’s position on the property when his company came to the city last fall to seek permission to re-open the trailer park.

“You were given a copy of the Gateway ordinances when you first came to us, before you bought the property,” Oswalt said. “It’s in writing. It’s in black and white print. You knew what was permissible and what wasn’t.”