SPRING LAKE — On a recent morning, Ryan Marchi drove through a mobile home park his company recently acquired.
He navigated carefully in an attempt to avoid the debris that litters unkept roads and downed trees. At times overgrown bushes and shrubbery scratched the sides of his SUV.
Empty mobile homes – some sporting graffiti or missing windows and doors – were scattered haphazardly on lots filled with piles of trash and abandoned furniture.
What some see as an eyesore, Marchi and Time Out Communities see as an opportunity. The property management company is buying mobile home parks in Spring Lake and elsewhere with the idea of replacing dilapidated trailers with newer units as a way to provide affordable housing in communities.
The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen approved a rezoning last week that gave Time Out Communities the go-ahead to revitalize a mobile home park with more than 200 homes.
The rezoning allowed for an additional 5.67 acres at 102 Dacha Lane, where the company has recently purchased an existing mobile home park.
Time Out Communities, based in Florida, owns mobile home parks in North Carolina and Illinois. It recently added three mobile home parks in Spring Lake to the 21 parks it has in Lumberton and Robeson County and four it has in Fayetteville.
The developers are also acquiring other mobile home parks in Spring Lake.
Marchi, head of acquisitions for Time Out Communities, said the company has purchased two more mobile home communities behind Pine Tree Lane in Spring Lake and is looking into others as long as they can be acquired for fair market value.
“We are cleaning up as much of the area behind the Walmart as we can,” Marchi said, adding that the company also plans to put in roads to the existing mobile home parks. Many of the roads are currently in a state of disrepair or are unpaved.
Marchi said the company had approached the new owner of Pope Plains Mobile Home Park off Odell Road. He said the owner, based in Alabama, bought the property for $1.1 million in 2020 and is now asking $4.2 million for the mobile home park with 197 lots.
“We offered $3.5 million, which was rejected by the owner in September,” Marchi said.
James Wilkerson, who has managed Pope Plains Mobile Home Park for four months, said most of his tenants own their mobile homes and have lived there for 20 to 30 years.
Time Out Communities has multiple plans it will consider for developing the site at 102 Dacha Lane. With the rezoning of the additional 5 plus acres, it can put up to 288 new mobile homes on the property.
The property, which used to be known as Riverside Estate Mobile Home Park, saw major flooding during Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Tom Cooney, who served as director of public works for Spring Lake from 2016 to 2018, said in a social media post this week that during the storm there was 6 feet to 7 feet of water covering the site.
“Our fire department had to perform many rescues of residents who were still located on this property,” Cooney said.
When the rezoning request was before the Cumberland County Joint Planning board, members said mobile home parks didn’t align with the vision for Spring Lake or with the comments from residents during meetings related to a land-use plan.
The Cumberland County 2030 Growth Vision Plan adopted in 2006 called for more quality housing and residential development. It said affordable housing needed to be met in greater measure by smaller accessory units rather than by mobile homes.
The Spring Lake Area Land Use Plan is being updated. The most recent version was adopted in 2002. According to the draft of the plan, which is slated to be adopted this fall, public comments included the removal of mobile homes.
Spring Lake town ordinances also call for the prevention of further single manufactured housing units, which are currently only allowed in existing parks.
During last week’s board meeting, Alderman Raul Palacios said the town had not allowed mobile home parks for 20 years.
Palacios said Thursday that he voted to approve the rezoning for the additional 5 acres in an effort to bring the tax base up in Spring Lake. He also said the larger property adjacent to the area up for the rezoning was already zoned for mobile homes.
“We aren’t able to stop new mobile homes from coming onto land that is already zoned for it,’’ he said. “A nay vote would not have stopped the other 26 acres from mobile home re-development.”
Carl Manning, executive director of Kingdom Community Development Corp., said he didn’t understand the board’s decision to approve a rezoning that went against planning for the area.
Manning’s organization has a mission to build affordable housing in Spring Lake. He has built single-family houses in Spring Lake and has five under construction.
He also has been part of the Cumberland County Growth Vision planning process, the Spring Lake Economic Development committee and has served on the Cumberland County Joint Planning Board.
“We have tried to get away from mobile home parks,” Manning said. “These are rentals, not homeownership.”
Alderman Marvin Lackman, who was the only dissenting vote last week, agreed.
“Spring Lake has worked hard to improve our town and focus on upgrading our quality of life for our residents with homes instead of trailer parks,” Lackman said.
Marchi said his group is just trying to provide housing where it is needed.
“We’ve done our due diligence on this area and affordable housing is in high demand,” Marchi said.
The price point for the new mobile homes in Spring Lake was not available; however, average prices for the communities in Fayetteville were between $975 for a single-wide, three-bedroom, two-bathroom mobile home with 924 square feet and $1,400 for a double-wide, four-bedroom, two-bathroom mobile home with 1,350 square feet.
Marchi said the existing mobile home parks that Time Out Communities is acquiring will be cleaned up, roads will be put in and new, energy-efficient mobile homes will replace the current inventory.
“By the end of the summer, these properties will be cleaned of litter and revitalized,’’ he said. “Our homes are a level above.”
He also said their park-owned, property management style allowed for consistent upkeep.
“We want to ensure the homes in the community are to the same standard and continue to be well taken care of,” he said. “When homes are owner-occupied as opposed to park owned, we have found that when one or two units do not maintain properly, a ripple effect follows.”
He added that Time Out Communities hires local property managers and employs round-the-clock security patrols.
Time Out Communities plans to begin clearing land and finalizing its site plan in the coming weeks.
Marchi said he plans to work with government officials to help clean up the area.
Jami McLaughlin covers Spring Lake for CityView TODAY. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com