The New Albany Board of Aldermen gave City Attorney Regan Russell the authority Tuesday to make a counter offier on the possible purchase price of a Bankhead trailer park that nearby residents say is a continual source of criminal activity in the area.
The board has given Russell two weeks to discuss a fair price with Resthaven Trailer Park owners Danny Stout, Sr. and his sons, Danny Stout, Jr. and Patrick Stout. The board is set to consider a new proposal on Feb. 21.
The trailer park, which was once known as the Rest Haven Motel, currently houses 38 mobile homes and 20 motel units on 7.22 acres. The Stouts rent out the trailers and motel units on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Approximately 55 tenants reside there at this time.
The Stouts have put the property up for sale and have offered it to the city for $700,000. According to a five-year-old appraisal of the property, the land was worth $710,000 at that time.
Will Tucker, alderman for the ward that contains both Rest Haven and Murrah Road, said he believed the city should purchase the property and construct new facilities for the New Albany Light, Gas & Water department.
“We are in dire need of a new gas department and in need of a new administrative building,” Tucker said. “There is no other solution that I can see for this problem. The trailer park is currently up to code. The owners currently have it up for sale and they could sell it to someone else, meaning it would remain as a trailer park.”
The vote came in response to an outcry from Murrah Road residents for the city to purchase the property and close the trailer park. Residents presented their case to the board Tuesday night in a crowded Magnolia Civic Center auditorium, saying the owners’ current asking price is a fair one.
“The trailer park is not only a problem for the city, but for the owners as well,” said Mark Nail, spokesman for the Murrah Road residents. “It has been a source of crime in the area and we feel the city could solve the problem by buying it from the owners at this price, because it is a source of income for them.”
At least a dozen other residents of Murrah Road or neighboring streets spoke up as well, sharing stories of break-ins or suspicious activity coming from the trailer park.
New Albany Police Chief David Grisham, who was asked to describe the criminal activity in Rest Haven, said that the trailer park has been a problem for many years.
“It used to be mainly bootlegging back in the 1970’s,” Grisham said. “As time has gone on though, and the number of residents there has grown, drug problems and domestic issues there have increased. Anytime you have a large number of people in a small space, there will be problems.”
According to Tucker, the land was grandfathered in to the city’s current code as a trailer park. For that reason, he said, if a trailer burns or is removed from the property, the owners could simply replace it with another one.
Other residents at the meeting, along with some aldermen, were skeptical of a push for the city to purchase the property.
One Rest Haven resident said she, her husband, four children and her father, all would be dislocated if the city purchased the property and closed the park.
“Everybody that stays out there does not do drugs. I try to stay to myself. When y’all tear it down or whatever, what are we supposed to do?”
Another person in the audience said he believed the board would be “committing suicide” if it did not get a current appraisal of the property’s value before purchasing it at the asking price.
Tommie Beasley, alderman for the city’s third ward, argued that there are several areas around the city where crime exists besides this one trailer park.
“Don’t misunderstand me, I think this is a bad situation,” Beasley said. “But I remember when Chico Foote and his wife were murdered a few years ago. That didn’t get nearly the response that this has. I don’t think that buying this trailer park will eliminate all the crime in the city.”
Ward One Alderman Jeff Olson and Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson said that they were not completely opposed to purchasing the property, but that the price would need to be significantly less.
“I think that to the residents of Murrah Road this matter seems crystal clear,” Anderson said. “But we have to look at all things and the fact is, $700,000 is too much to spend on this property.
Olson agreed, adding that he didn’t believe it would be fair to ask residents in other areas of the city to pay the asking price.
Tucker first put forward the motion that Bill Mattox, director for the New Albany Light, Gas & Water, along with Russell, negotiate the price for the park. Due to the fact that Stout, Sr. is a water distribution supervisor and Patrick Stout is a lineman in the electric department, however, the board agreed that Mattox should only be involved as a consultant to Russell.