Residents who were forced to move from a Morehead mobile home park to create a development project filed a lawsuit against the city this week.
Seven former residents accused the city’s mayor and council of failing to meet legal requirements to establish the development area and refund the tax incentives awarded to the developer through Tax Increment Financing, or TIF.
Talks about redevelopment of the North Fork Mobile Home Park began publicly at a city council meeting last September. Developers considered the park a “blight” and spoke about their plans to redevelop the site at a “critical intersection” near Interstate 64. The project is led by Lexington developer Patrick Madden, who also developed Hamburg Place.
The city passed an ordinance in December that established the Morehead Gateway Development Area at North Fork Mobile Home Park and granted about $9.8 million in taxpayer subsidies over then next 30 years.
Residents say they were not made aware of the sale until late last year and did not have adequate time to either move their mobile home or find a new place to live.
The lawsuit alleges that city officials passed the ordinance without following steps required by Kentucky statutes to create a development area, not considering the impact of displacing residents, failing to provide proper notice and not assessing existing conditions at the mobile home park before approving the Development Area. Morehead Mayor Laura White-Brown and council members Mike Kash, Beth Ousley, David Perkins and Glen Teager are listed on the lawsuit.
City attorney Joyce Stevens did not respond to an email for comment.
For months, North Fork residents organized rallies, vigils, celebrations and presentations for the City Council and Rowan County Fiscal Court demanding more time to move, compensation and protections for all renters in the county. Residents were forced to vacate the mobile home park by April 30.
Former North Fork residents Mindy Davenport, Sue Hamilton, Penny Gozzard, Tim Massey Jessica Blakeman, Debra French and Jason Griffin rented lots from Joanne Fraley for $125 a month. Gozzard, who was unable to sell or relocate her mobile home, now pays $660 a month in rent for an apartment. Hamilton owned her trailer and paid lot rent to Fraley for six years at North Fork with her two daughters. She was unable to move her trailer, so she sold it for $3,500. She now pays $950 for an apartment that is smaller and less convenient than her mobile home.
They alleged that nowhere in the city’s ordinance were there “clear visual indicators that a proposed development will displace North Fork residents and their homes” or consideration of the costs associated with the displacement of the park’s residents.
“If a city wants to give taxpayer money to a private developer while displacing residents, it can. But, that process cannot be fundamentally fair under the Kentucky Constitution unless the city tells the people (with actual notice) it would be displacing what it’s considering and gives them an opportunity to be heard at the public hearing,” the lawsuit states.
The residents are not seeking monetary compensation in this lawsuit.
Ben Carter, Kentucky Equal Justice Center attorney, said the residents want to ensure a displacement like this does not happen again, and they did not want to “muddy the waters” by asking for money.
Carter said he is hopeful and confident about the outcome of this lawsuit.
He said the Kentucky legislature wanted the bare minimum amount of homework done with creating a new development plan and Morehead did not do it.
The lawsuit states “The City’s ‘Development Plan’ explains that some businesses might locate in this development area, but is otherwise fuzzy on the details of what those businesses are and how they will improve and add to the area.”
Carter said the residents have not filed a lawsuit against Rowan County. The county provided a $11.7 million tax incentive. The county agreed to provide $1,000 for North Fork Mobile Home park residents to help with moving costs.
Carter said Morehead drove the bus on this development plan. He did not rule out a future lawsuit against Rowan County.