A Buffalo developer blames Village of Alden officials for interfering with the sales contracts for a delipidated mobile home park, costing him more than a half-million dollars.
Alden Landings mobile home park is a stone’s throw away from village hall, and was part of a packaged deal of properties that Buffalo developer Nick Sinatra bought in 2015.
Sinatra considered redeveloping the property with patio homes or townhouses.
“The village officials were ecstatic about that idea, I mean they couldn’t have been more excited about it,” Sinatra said.
But when Sinatra’s affiliate company, Better Buffalo, advised village officials in January 2017 that the redevelopment would not fit on the narrow property off Broadway, they “made clear to Better Buffalo that they were unhappy with this response.”
In the following months, Sinatra said the village deployed “heavy-handed” tactics against him and his company. The village cited him with code violations and took a tougher approach to longstanding drainage problems that preceded his involvement.
In addition, the village board amended the village code to make “improper or inadequate draining” a hazard and added a new law that would force a mobile home owner to cease operations and evict tenants if a park license expired for any reason.
Worst of all, according to Sinatra, is the village officials scared off potential buyers of the property by telling them that they would not approve a license for the mobile home park.
“We think that they tortuously interfered with our contracts and they actively interfered with the for sale contract, and we think that they did that because they wanted us to feel enough pain with this mobile home park that it would force us into redeveloping the site,” Sinatra said.
In the end, Sinatra sold the mobile home park for a fraction of what he paid for it in 2015.
A federal lawsuit filed against the village by two of Sinatra’s affiliated companies alleges that he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in last year’s sale of the mobile home park.
“I really can’t comment because it is in litigation other than to say that we disagree with all of the points he’s made in the lawsuit and we look forward to defending ourselves,” said Michael Manicki, the village’s mayor
Longstanding drainage problem
Alden Landings is a small mobile home park built in the center of the village in 1970.
The residents own their mobile homes but rent the land. Properties such as Alden Landings are attractive to elderly residents on fixed incomes and lower-income families because the rents are typically cheaper than apartments.
A review of village board minutes found that since at least 2010, village officials had fielded complaints about drainage problems at the mobile home park.
Residents of the mobile home park said the past owner neglected the property for years, but the village kept renewing the license without having him fix the problems, such as the drainage, sewage spills and potholes.
“I try not to go back there, but it’s pretty bad,” said a resident who did not want to provide her full name because she was scared of being evicted.
The owner at the time, a California-based investor, did install holding ponds for the excess runoff but the drainage problems continued.
In fact, in 2014, Joe Czechowski, the village’s code enforcement officer, wrote the mobile home park owner at the time that the drainage along the park streets was still inadequate to direct the runoff to the new holding ponds.
But the village still granted the license.
In May 2015, Sinatra, through two of his affiliate companies, purchased the mobile home park for $885,000. The property was part of a much larger $35 million real estate mega deal with Los Angeles investor Michael Hannel.
“As a contingency on the apartments I really wanted in the City of Buffalo, we had to buy this property as well,” Sinatra said.
Sinatra said he did not believe there were any significant drainage problems at the property. He thinks that is why the village continued to issue licenses to the prior owner.
Manicki said the village tried to have the prior owners fix the drainage problems.
“And we’ve given everybody chances and chances and chances, maybe we were too nice, I don’t know,” he said.
The village issued a license to Sinatra’s companies to run the mobile home park in September 2015.
The following year, the village wanted Sinatra to fix the drainage problems by December 2016, and made it a condition on his license, he said.
Shortly thereafter, officials for Sinatra met with Manicky, Czechowski and Keith Sitzman, superintendent of public works, to discuss the future of the mobile home park. Sinatra said he told them that he would explore options to fix the drainage but was also considering redeveloping the property.
Meanwhile, residents of the mobile home park had no idea about these discussions or of how close they were to being evicted for a redevelopment.
Jason Gorton, a resident, said he would have probably ended up in a homeless shelter if he had been evicted.
“There’s people here that are struggling,” he said.
“I like Alden, there’s a lot of good people in Alden and stuff. This is probably the cheapest place you’re going to find.”
Sinatra said once he informed village officials that he would not be redeveloping the property, they threatened to shut down the mobile home park.
Contracts fall through
Sinatra hired a broker to begin marketing the property for sale in 2017.
On January 31, 2017, Sinatra’s company entered into a contract to sell the property for $780,000. But he said the interested party canceled the contract after communicating with the village.
When Sinatra asked why the deal fell through, he said he was told that, “village officials made it very clear that they don’t want a mobile home park here in the future, that’s not in their view the long-term view of the village, and scared them away,” Sinatra said.
A similar situation happened five months later when Sinatra had the property under contract, but the buyer backed out after speaking with village officials.
“They met with the village officials and the next day I got a phone call and says, ‘yeah, we are not moving forward with this contract,’ and I knew the reason why,” Sinatra said.
“But I asked them and said why, and he says ‘it’s just too much risk in this here, the village officials said they would not give us a permanent license and we felt like that was going to be used over our head to do whatever the village officials wanted us to do with the park and that’s not a good investment for us,’ so they walked away.”
Manicki denied that the village deterred potential buyers and said the village board did not care what Sinatra planned to do with the property.
“But the problems had to be resolved,” he said.
Town officials also filed code violations against the mobile home park for demolishing a trailer without a permit in and operating without a license that apparently expired.
The village board held a special meeting on Sept. 7, 2017, to discuss the license for Alden Landings.
Shannon Haneghan, the attorney for Alden Landings, told the board that the park owner needed an easement and maintenance agreement from Zoladz, a neighboring property owner, so that a drainage pipe could be built on their property to re-route the storm water.
“Hannagan felt her clients were being pushed by the shortened time line to do repairs preceding their owning the property,” village board minutes for the meeting state.
“Attorney [Chris] Trapp explained her clients knew about the conditions 11 months ago, but didn’t take any action.”
The board gave the company an extension to November 2017 to fix the drainage and repair the roads within the mobile home park.
Sinatra said he was unable to obtain the easement for the drainage pipe and informed the village that he could not proceed with his drainage improvement plan.
On Dec. 4, 2017, the village filed a case in village court over Sinatra’s company failing to remedy the drainage problems. But the village denies that it revoked his license.
About a year later, the village amended the law that governs mobile home parks to include “improper or inadequate drainage” as a hazardous condition. In addition, the town added to the law that if a mobile home park license expires, the owner must cease operations and remove the mobile homes within a time dictated by the village board.
Sinatra finally sold the mobile home park on Nov. 1, 2018, for $425,000.
Two months later, the village board issued a license to Bayview of Alden LLC, an affiliate of Stephen Development that operates several local mobile and manufactured home parks, including Rock Oak in Clarence.
Paul Stephen, the new owner of Alden Landings, said he plans to keep it a mobile home park. Both he and Noel Dill, the vice president, are local businessman who specialize in mobile and manufactured home parks.
But they said they had to prove to the village that they would not only fix the drainage problems, but also improve the aesthetics of the park by replacing vacant, rundown trailers with new ones.
“There was a lot of things that needed to be done,” Stephen said.
“We think we can turn it around and that’s a project we like”
Manicki, the village mayor, said he had a good feeling from the first meeting he had with the new owners.
“They knew what they were doing,” he said.