GREELEY— Steve Spencer has lived in the Hill-N-Park subdivision in unincorporated Weld County on and off since he was 16.
At 42, Spencer is thinking about moving his family after issues in the subdivision have become too much.
Imagined as a master-planned community south of the city limits of Greeley and adjacent to Evans, the majority of Hill-N-Park was built out from 1966 to 1973.
Residents were attracted to the idea of getting away from city life and the higher taxes that come with it. And while the plan was a mix of modular and site-built homes, most lots filled with mobile and modular residences. Unlike many mobile home parks, the subdivision was unique in that most of the lots were owner-occupied, not rentals.
Attracted by the opportunity to own the land under an affordable home, as well as the good condition of the subdivision at the time, Spencer’s father moved into a modular home in Hill-N-Park in 1980. Spencer said he used to feel some pride in his community, but it’s fallen with lapses in the economy over the years from which the subdivision’s residents never seem to recover.
Many residents are on disability and make low incomes, making it difficult to keep the neighborhood spick and span and even more difficult to advocate for their needs. As a result, residents feel abandoned by local officials.
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“We’re pretty much the red-headed stepchild of Greeley, Evans and Weld,” said 52-year-old resident John Dyer. “We’re unincorporated Weld County; we’ve got a Greeley address and water from Evans.”
Residents have pushed to get a bus stop for the subdivision, but they’ve been unsuccessful and largely remain isolated. The only roads entering and exiting the subdivision are to the south, away from commercial developments in Greeley and Evans. Residents often walk along 49th Street south of the subdivision, hiking or hitchhiking their way into town. With no sidewalks along the street, this can be a hazard to both pedestrians and drivers.
The subdivision has a convenience store and gas station, called Our Little Store, at the southwest corner. With typical convenience store pricing and a limited selection, residents don’t get much use out of the store, preferring to go in town to shop.
The issue of isolation is a familiar one to residents like 79-year-old Bill Long, who’s lived at Hill-N-Park since 1972. Even though he hasn’t personally had a transportation challenge — owning a reliable vehicle — Long said he’d like to see bus service, even if a bus stopped only once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said residents came to a commissioners’ meeting about 2014 to express their concerns about the lack of transportation. Conway worked with Greeley-Evans Transit and North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization to meet with residents and identify possible solutions.
With a price tag of several tens of thousands of dollars, a bus route wasn’t feasible, Conway said. Five years later, the talks are ongoing, he said. But they haven’t yet materialized into a solution, and many residents continue to struggle with the area’s isolation.
Dyer’s neighbor struggled with the lack of bus service this past year, when her child was suspended from the school district’s buses for three days, and the neighbor didn’t have a car to drive the student to school.
Even with a car, navigating Hill-N-Park streets can be dangerous in the winter. Most of the roads are on a hill, including two downward sloping roads that meet at a corner. No one salts the roads, making driving on the snowy roads all the more risky. Dyer said he’s seen one street sweeper in his entire time living at the subdivision.
Struggling with rising costs
Life in Hill-N-Park has become more expensive in recent years, as both taxes and water costs have risen. Dyer, whose said his property taxes recently went up by more than 40%, said those rising costs are making life even more difficult for Hill-N-Park residents.
“Some folks out here are barely getting by,” he said.
And some aren’t, he said. Dyer recounted a household that took to shutting off their power and gas for an extended time. They cooked on a barbecue throughout the summer, saving money for utilities in the cold winters instead.
As of late August, three modular homes in the subdivision listed for sale as pre-foreclosures.
And the rising costs aren’t helping. Spencer, like most in the subdivision, chose to stop watering his lawn after his water bill went up. City of Evans officials recently raised the water rates to pay for a wastewater treatment plant replacing a plant wiped out by the 2013 floods. Though plenty of lawns still host towering wildflowers, many of the lawns have yellowed and died.
Long said he and his neighbors feel they have no say in the city’s actions, so residents just pay what they’re told to. Though Evans’ boundaries lie to the north, east, west and south of Hill-N-Park, the city has not indicated any interest in annexing the subdivision — a process officials have said would be too costly, citing the need to bring any annexed properties up to the city’s codes.
County officials in the past couple years have taken to more strictly enforcing codes, hitting residents with fines for unkempt yards. Dyer understands the need to keep properties clean, but cleaning up a yard can be difficult when managing a household on a low income or working with a disability, he said.
Dyer worries that residents could become priced out of the area and sent packing to find affordable homes elsewhere.
That increased enforcement, though a sore subject for some who live in Hill-N-Park, was a result of the county’s meetings with those who live in the subdivision, according to Conway.
Residents started those conversations by talking about their transportation issues, but it opened up a dialogue about other concerns, Conway said, including a lack of zoning enforcement.
To help homeowners avoid those fines, the county organized a couple clean-up days for Hill-N-Park, where officials work to streamline disposal of items that can be difficult to get rid of.
To further help owners struggling to make home repairs, Conway said they’re working with the Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity and the Greeley-Weld Housing Authority to explore rehabilitating some properties and doing minor updates. Conway said they collaborated on a similar project in the Glens in southern Weld, a community of seniors in mostly mobile homes.
Conway said county officials continue to work on addressing residents’ concerns.
“There just isn’t one silver bullet,” he said.
Home for now
While some residents openly acknowledge the subdivision’s issues, many still hold fond feelings for the Hill-N-Park community. Long said he feels the drawbacks are worth the quiet away from city life. Some neighbors do a great job taking care of their properties, he said, and Long doesn’t blame those who are struggling to get by for having a messy yard.
For Dyer, being able to step out, sit on his front porch at night and think is a great feature of the area’s stillness. People don’t call to complain if he starts a fire in his backyard, and, without much light pollution in the area, he can look up and see the stars. Neighbors become familiar with one another and keep an eye on each other’s homes.
Dyer acknowledged that many of the positives of the community are due to its out-of-town location, leaving residents in the paradoxical situation of wanting some help from local governments, yet appreciating the peace and freedom that comes with the isolation.
For others, like Spencer, the challenges of living in Hill-N-Park play into a larger question of whether they see a future in the community. With the state’s more relaxed marijuana laws a concern and Colorado’s rising population driving up housing prices across the state, Spencer said if he leaves Hill-N-Park, he’ll likely leave Colorado altogether.