Roughly two dozen Wake Forest families will have until January to move their homes following the town’s approval Tuesday of a 36-acre residential redevelopment project.
The residents will get up to $375,000 that will be divided among them, plus help from community groups to help with the transition.
The Wake Forest Board of Commissioners voted to support a Middleburg Communities plan for up to 260 cottage-style, for-rent homes on Deerfield Drive off N.C. 98. The development will replace the longtime Wellington Park Mobile Home Park.
The park’s owner and former town mayor George Mackie Jr. had told the families, most of whom own their homes, that they would have to leave, regardless of whether the redevelopment is approved.
Only 27 of the 47 families remain. Those who do not leave by Jan. 19 will be evicted, giving them 180 days under state law to relocate their mobile homes. Roughly a dozen homes can’t be moved because of their age or condition, resident Ronnie Jackson has told the commissioners.
Commissioner Chad Sary said Tuesday that finding a solution has not been easy. The commissioners have spent months trying to find a way to help the soon-to-be displaced residents, they said, but Mackie has made up his mind about closing the park.
Mackie has not responded to The News & Observer’s numerous requests for comment.
“It could have been handled in a much better way,” Sary said. “That being said, on this board, I think all of us try to make the right decisions. It’s never easy, and I personally never had to face anything like this.”
Wellington Park residents come together
Wellington Park residents and their supporters rallied outside Wake Forest Town Hall before Tuesday’s meeting. They had resolved in August to drop their plan for a resident-owned cooperative that could buy the park from Mackie, instead putting their support behind the deal with Middleburg.
They also worked with the N.C. Congress of Latino Organizations to start a GoFundMe campaign to raise $40,000 toward relocation costs. Some families have gotten estimates of $20,000 or more to move their homes to a new location.
The permit requires the developer to put up $375,000 to help the residents relocate, and the town to reimburse the developer $125,000 by forgoing a portion of its required parks and recreation fee. That could provide each of the remaining families with over $13,000.
That offer was negotiated at the Sept. 7 meeting with the Planning Board and commissioners, who were taken aback when Jason Pfister, vice present of land entitlements for Middleburg Communities, said the town would reimburse half of the original $250,000 relocation funding pledge.
It was the first time any of them had heard the plan, the commissioners said. Wall-Lennon suggested Middleburg put another $125,000 in the pot, which the developer did last week.
Pfister told The N&O that he also had reached out to moving companies and regional park owners to find options for the residents. He characterized the discrepancy about the relocation funding as a miscommunication.
Commissioner Liz Simpers said that was frustrating.
“We don’t want to hurt anyone, and we don’t want to hurt the people that have no other choice but to be evicted, but if we can help, we need to do it,” she said at the Sept. 7 meeting.
Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones credited Pfister and Middleburg Communities at Tuesday’s meeting with helping to reduce the effect on residents.
“Looking back on my experience with developers, I believe (Pfister) has done more than most, and I think it would be unkind or inappropriate to cast him or Middleburg as the bad guy in this situation,” Jones said.
Middleburg will work with Triangle Family Services and ONE Wake — a group of churches and nonprofits — to help the families.
The money can be spent on a variety of relocation costs, from a down payment on a new home or apartment to utility connections, moving fees, temporary lodging, childcare and storage units, Wall-Lennon said. Triangle Family Services also will provide up to $1,500 in gift cards for gas, food and other necessities.
The developer’s construction plans will not be approved until the residents receive the help they were promised, Wall-Lennon said.
“I wanted to publicly share this with the residents in hopes that it gives you some sense of comfort or confidence that we have done all that we knew to do in this particular situation,” she said. “My heart aches for you. I’m sorry this has come down to this, but I do wish you all the best.”