LITTLETON, N.H. - The remaining tenants at Towle's Trailer Park will now be looking for a new place to live.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed a 2008 superior court decision that releases the developers from the responsibility of relocating the tenants. The January decision ends four years of litigation and legal uncertainties - only to give rise to other uncertainties.
"We're just waiting for the hammer to come down," said Linda Brady, Willowdale Place Cooperative Inc. president. "We don't know if they're going to increase the lot rent or when we'll get the eviction notice."
The cooperative was formed in 2004 after tenants received word the land under their homes might be sold. Austin Smith and David Groom of Kilburn Crags LLC bought the 131-acre parcel from Joyce Towle Varney in 2005 and closed on it in June 2006. The park sits on roughly 8 of the 131 acres.
Four years later, 11 of the park's original 22 homes remain occupied.
"There are 29 human beings who will be thrown out of there," Brady said. "Ten are children."
The cooperative sued Smith and Groom to enforce a provision in the agreement called Clause 6, which states "that the buyer [shall] complete the development of the back land ... and provide the residents ... with alternative mobile home rental sites in the newly developed area."
During a two-day civil trial in August 2008, William Pribis, Smith and Groom's attorney, argued Clause 16 releases his clients from any relocation obligation because it states the agreement is solely for the benefit of Smith, Groom and Varney, and nothing in it creates enforceable rights in favor of third parties, which he said are the tenants.
"Clearly there was a statement in the [purchase and sales agreement] that we were supposed to receive something from this sale," she said.In the September 2008 Grafton Superior Court decision, Judge Peter Bornstein concluded the two clauses when read together are ambiguous, and any intended benefit to the tenants is negated by Clause 16.
The state's supreme court justices agreed and found no error with the superior court decision.
On Thursday, Smith said he and Groom have no concrete plans for the land, and given the state of the current retail market, development is not likely to take place any time soon.
"We believe the highest and best use of that site is retail," Smith said, "but given what we are hearing in the retail market, it could be months or years before there is a suitable candidate for that site. We're just going to be patient. We have no plans of evicting anybody in the near future unless there's some sort of rent problem."
Brady said one family living in the park paid off a home in April assuming they would have a place to live.
The future of that family and the other families is not the brightest.
Brady said the cooperative met Thursday with representatives from the New Hampshire Community Loan fund and was told there is no hope of tenants relocating to another parcel.
To bring in utilities, it would cost about $50,000 per home to build a lot from scratch, she said, and that excludes purchasing the land.
With the supreme court ruling, tenants have closed one chapter of their lives and started another.
"After years of hard work, hopeful aspirations and numerous letdowns, this chapter closes," Towle's resident Kristyn Dingman said. "My sincere appreciation goes to my fellow board members, the co-op resident members and Jim Matthes from New Hampshire Community Loan Fund for many hours of hard work and years of perseverance. Best of luck to everyone. May each rise to this new challenge."
A second civil suit is now going forward.
The cooperative previously filed a $100,000 civil claim against Varney, who Brady said did not notify the tenants within 60 days as required by law that the purchase and sales agreement had changed because the price of the land dropped from $1 million to $990,000.
The case was scheduled to go to court in June 2009, but was put on hold pending the outcome of the supreme court decision.
"It appears the judges in both Grafton Superior Court and the supreme court never looked at this from the human aspect and what actually was happening to families and their homes," Brady said.