Left in limbo
May 25, 2012
Inside Jan Christensen’s faded off-white mobile home, a wooden clock hangs on the eastern wall. Its faux gold hands audibly tick and every hour the chime reverberates with a metallic strum.
With any movement of the instrument’s smallest hand, Christensen could receive notice that she’ll have to move from her Tahoe Shores residence, where she’s lived alone for the last 30 years.
It has been a decade since developers announced that the 50-year-old mobile home community would be removed to make way for a luxury condo development known as Tahoe Beach Club. In that time, while the project awaits funding, little has physically happened. But those who reside in the manufactured homes lining the lakeside property have had to live with the fact that, eventually, they will have to move.
Along the crumbling streets of Tahoe Shores are more than 140 rectangular dwellings. Some are freshly painted with upkept lawns and colorful yard ornaments. Others are degraded, overgrown with weeds and decorated with the junked items of past tenants.
At the west end of Tahoe Shores is the residents’ private beach. The old pier ends where a section of new pier is under construction. It’s the only sign that the development is under way.
When South Shore Capital bought the property under the 150 mobiles in 2002, it owned only three of the actual homes. It now owns 82 of the units and rents them out to temporary residents with the warning that any day the park could officially close.
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Between some of the mobiles are open swaths of pavement where single-wides or double-wides once stood. Some of them collapsed. Others moved. Each year there are fewer homes. South Shore Capital will not allow new owners to move into the park because, if the development gains funding and the project goes forward, the company will have to pay to move them out.
Christensen and other longtime residents remember Tahoe Shores when former owner Oliver Kahle ran the park, when all the homes were well kept and when they had picnics with potato salad on the beach.
“It was a mobile home community,” Christensen said, emphasizing the final word. “It was beautiful. People had pride in this place.”
Tahoe Shores opened in the 1960s on top of what was once an old airstrip. In the beginning, the park was only for adults. The rents were low. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency was in its earliest stages.
After Oliver Kahle passed away in the late 1980s, the property changed hands several times. The place was opened to families with children. One owner made car shelters on the mobile homes mandatory. The legacy is evident in the leaning ports or garage doors, some bent and inoperable, on each and every unit.
In February 2002, South Shore Capital bought the 17-acre property and many of the homeowners left. Crime increased and management was ever-changing.
“We went through managers like people go through toothpaste,” Christensen said.
Still, the park remained open. But it would never be new again. South Shore Capital will not invest heavily in a mobile home park that will eventually be closed, said company vice president Tom Castaneda.
“The homes aren’t new and the streets aren’t new like they were,” Castaneda said. “We will put in whatever we have to put in to keep it livable and to keep renting those places.”
In the last two years, Charles and Melanie Arnold have managed the property. All but three of the company-owned mobile homes are currently being rented, they said.
They’ve worked hard to create a positive atmosphere and enforce the rules despite the uncertainty surrounding the future of Tahoe Shores, Melanie Arnold said. But many residents are not happy with the park’s condition or with their having their lives in limbo.
“The upkeep of the park is terrible,” said resident Ed Anderson, 39. “They don’t do what they’re supposed to do as property managers. The park is just falling apart.”
Anderson points to the deep unfilled potholes in the road, the overgrown empty lots, the abandoned appliances and snarled wiring as illustrations of the larger problem. Yet, he does like living in the location and the looming possibility of closure doesn’t really get to him.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t even think about it,” Anderson said. “It’s one of those things that I just don’t see any progress on.”
Resident Karen Saunders and her husband bought their house in 2000, just two years before the development was announced. She recalls residents selling their homes to the property owners for less than full value because they were scared, she said.
“When we moved down here, this place was just gorgeous,” she said through tears. “When the news came out, everybody just fled.”
She doesn’t blame Chuck and Melanie Arnold for the park’s current condition, but she believes that the neighborhood’s degradation is a direct and intentional result of the development.
“(The developers) have intentionally and purposefully turned this place into a ghetto,” she said. “They’ve made it an eye-sore so people will say ‘get rid of it.'”
Others have found Tahoe Shores to fit their lifestyle. With her husband’s work situation, Angel Mills plans on living in Tahoe Shores for just a year or two. She was pleasantly surprised when they showed up to their new home from Kansas last year.
“I don’t feel like they’ve done anything less than if the park was going to be here for another 20 years,” she said.
The Arnolds are quick to acknowledge that some of the residents have problems with them and some of them are not happy in Tahoe Shores. Though they’ll be out of a home and possibly out of job if Tahoe Beach Club is realized, they want to make the transition a positive one. They point to few vacancies, the crime-free housing program, the monthly events and their adamant enforcement of trespassing laws as signs that the park is improving.
The Tahoe Beach Club is planned to be 143 condominiums that will sell for more than $1 million each, nearly five times the current median home sales price in South Lake Tahoe.
Condo owners will be treated to a variety of services, from private dining to gyms and home maintenance. The complex will have a pool and spa, an athletic club and a private dock.
“A community with all the services of a five-star hotel,” Castaneda likes to say.
The project was awarded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification by the U.S. Green Building Rating System and praised by the TRPA for its potential reduction of sediment runoff into the lake and its restoration of Burke Creek.
The environmental benefits of the project aren’t too important to those who stand to lose their homes. There is no timeline for the development, Castaneda said. He did not say how long South Shore Capital could run the park in its current state.
“Something is going to happen,” Castaneda said. “The cost of carrying this property is a lot.”
If the project gains funding, residents will be given a 6-month notice to leave. Those who own homes will be offered buyouts once the project is set to begin. Until then, one of their few options is to sell their mobiles to the property owners for the appraised value, which for many, is a loss.
Christensen, along with many other homeowners, has opposed the project from the beginning. But the fight hasn’t been easy. The stress has affected her health and she’s lost friends in the process, she said.
“Stress is a killer and I probably should be dead by now,” she said. “But I refuse to.”
After 10 years of waiting, she’d like to move on. She wants a new house and the ability to do the fun things she used to do.
“I’d like a new, fresh start and so that’s why eventually I’d like to move,” Christensen said.