Who knew that living next to a new upscale neighborhood could be so dreadful?
Certainly not the residents of Puyallup’s Elmwood Mobile Manor. When the fields next to this modest 44-unit mobile home park began their transformation into a pleasant new neighborhood with neatly paved and landscaped streets lined by stately homes, the change appeared to be positive.
That neighborhood, dubbed “Stewart Crossing” after the arterial that bordered it to the south, was indeed popular with potential buyers and residents. The first two phases sold out quickly.
But living next to Steward Crossing has proved to be a nightmare for residents of the co-op mobile home park. So much so, that when the developer asked the city to approve the next two phases, Elmwood residents went to the council to oppose it.
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It all has to do with water. Too much of it and in all the wrong places, the trailer park residents say.
Several mobile homes’ septic systems have failed. Others are becoming balky. During rain storms, water fills yards and pools in driveways. And drinking water systems may be tainted.
Jesus Arvilla’s family has been forced to use a portable outhouse because their septic tank failed.
“Every time they pumped it, it would fill with water five minutes later,” he said. “When we want to take a shower, we have to go to my auntie’s house.” His aunt lives in Buckley. That’s a 30-minute, 16-mile drive.
Neighbor Susana Fregoso said that when the family comes home, the house smells of sewage. When they use water, the waste emerges in their yard.
Residents blame these woes, which threaten to make their homes uninhabitable, on the surrounding development. Because of federal flood-prevention requirements, the developer raised the ground level between three and four feet. Now Elmwood Mobile Manor is the lowest spot in the immediate neighborhood.
Which means that water that falls on the mobile home park, blocked by the dam of fill dirt, now ponds in Elmwood instead of flowing into Clark’s Creek and the Puyallup River. And some of the water that soaks Stewart Crossing flows downhill to Elmwood.
That water has saturated the trailer park’s septic system drain fields and filled some septic tanks. The sewage has no place to go, residents say.
“They elevated the land all around us,” said Elmwood resident Eli Berniker. “Because they elevated it, the water in our park is raised. And its causing a problem with our septic tanks because they can’t drain properly.”
The trailer park residents have spent more than $80,000 to create a new drainage mound on what was formerly the park’s guest parking lot. That system handles the sewage from two homes and possibly has capacity for a third. But the community has no money and no land to expand the new system.
Other Stewart Crossing neighbors not in Elmwood have also complained the development has altered drainage.
David Toomey, owner of Toomey Auto Electric on 70th Avenue west of Stewart Crossing, had questions for the council at last week’s meeting.
“We all know we have a problem,” he said. “I have two questions: What the hell are you going to do about it? And how soon are you going to do it?”
The council removed the approval of the Stewart Crossing plats from the agenda and asked the city’s engineers to come up with a solution.
Puyallup City Engineer Mark Palmer said city officials were studying the issue.
Stewart Crossing’s owner Kurt Wilson said he’s sympathetic with the Elmwood residents. He pledged to work with them to solve the problem.
He noted that the issues may in part be the result of exceptionally heavy rains this year.
“Twelve months’ worth of rain in four months,” he said. Likewise, he noted that the park’s septic systems are old and don’t meet modern codes.
Stewart Crossing has followed city rules to the letter, he said.
Residents acknowledge the systems are old, but that they all were functioning properly when they were inspected two years ago before the residents formed a co-op to buy the park.
Puyallup Mayor John Hopkins said he believes the city, the residents and the developer all are working diligently to find a solution.
The city plans on hiring a hydrologist to study water-flow patterns in the area and to recommend a solution to Elmwood’s woes.
“Our engineers aren’t groundwater experts, so we’re asking an expert to tell us what’s wrong,” he said.
To buy time, the city and the developer last weekend pumped out residents’ septic tanks. Unfortunately, one of those septic systems, which serves two mobile homes, failed during the pumping.
Hopkins, Pierce County Councilwoman Pam Roach and Puyallup Councilwoman Robin Farris met with residents last weekend to update them on how the city plans to proceed.
James Ott, an Elmwood resident who helped organize residents to speak at the council last week, said the solution needs to come soon.
“We’re being run out of town without a gun,” he said. “We need to put our thinking caps on now how to fix this solution.”
John Gillie: 253-597-8663