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Lake Diversion leaseholders to be evicted

By Sherrie Williams
Those who own or lease cabins and/or homes at Lake Diversion learned last week they were being evicted and have until midnight January 31, 2017 to vacate the premises at Cara Blanca Park.
The property is in the Iowa Park School District, even though at the end of the 2015/2016 school year the school district did not show any students riding a bus from or to Lake Diversion.
Many of those who have cabins or homes at Lake Diversion live in them year around and have no other place to live.
The residents first learned they were losing their homes and investments when a notice was posted at the gate.
The notice was also sent by certified mail to the home/cabin owners from Sherrill & Gibson, PLLC firm in Wichita Falls.
The Lake Diversion property is part of the W.T. Waggoner estate and was sold to billionaire Stan Kroenke, owner of the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Nuggets and millions of acres of property across the United States. With the purchase of the Waggoner property Kroenke is now the number five spot among landowners in the U.S., according to a news article published in the Dallas Morning news.
Residents at Lake Diversion said they were told nothing would change and many of them had high hopes Kroenke would make improvements at the Cara Blanca Park.
However, shortly after the sale some started having concerns, but even they didn’t expect to be given as little as six months to move all of their personal belongings off the property they leased, even their homes.
Because it had been an affordable place to live, many of the residents are retired and/or disabled. Others had invested all of their money into their cabins and homes on the lake as they prepared for retirement.
When the residents and cabin/home owners received notice to vacate it has left many devastated because they have no where to turn.
Annette McNeil Ellis and her husband Rick have lived in their rock cabin on Lake Diversion for 10 years. The couple, in their late fifties/early sixties, have invested all their money into the cabin that was built in 1926.
Ellis said when she and her husband bought the little rock cabin it was in bad shape. They invested their money and time into the place they call home. Now they have no idea where they will call home.
Rick’s family has lived at the lake since 1969 and he grew up on the lake.
Ellis said the notice came as a surprise to them.
“All we knew was that they (Kroenke’s comany) had suspended cabin sales in July. They said no more cabin transfers until they revealed their master plan.”
She added, “ some people have to pay their leases in installments. They pay half at the end of January and the other half at the end of July. We received notice Aug. 1. Kroenke wanted to get all the lease money before his plans were announced.”
Last year the lease went from $1,000 a year to $1,500.
Some of the residents can recall when the leases were as little as $50 a year.
“Having your home paid for is the best security anyone can have. Then to have your paid-for-home stolen from you,” said Ellis. “They stuck it to us and there are a lot of hurting people out here.”
Some residents expressed concern for a disabled veteran who lives at Cara Blanca. His home is reportedly two mobile homes placed together that simply cannot be moved and he lives on a low fixed income.
“One man lives on $700 a month. His son recently came and visited him and spent $5,000 replacing boards on his deck. Another couple recently bought a place out here and remodeled it and moved in three months ago. They spent their savings on it, now they are losing everything. This man is destroying lives. He promised the Waggoners he wasn’t going to make big changes and the first week he fired several of the cowboys and sold the horses and now he is displacing 100 families,” said Ellis.
Ellis said she called the attorney’s office first thing Monday morning and ask the man who answered the phone who was going to buy their home. He told her no one would buy it and stated they needed to take what they want off the property by Feb. 1.
She said she explained to him her home is a rock cabin with walls that are four foot into the ground and there is no way to move it.
She said when some of the residents called the Waggoner office they (the residents) were told they could not answer any questions.
“We had fundraisers every year to make improvements on the property out here. We put every penny of the money back into the lake. It doesn’t go into our pockets,” Ellis said.
When Kroenke bought the Waggoner Estate some had hoped he would put city water in so they didn’t have to haul their drinking water.
“We were promised and assured everything would go as usual. He bought it in February and should have notified us immediately and we would have had a year,” said Ellis. “He is stealing our homes. There is no other way to put this. There is no way to move our homes and if we could where we put them? It hurts losing your home, the home you pay taxes on and is your homestead. Who knows if Lake Kemp is next
Ellis’ next plan was to call the Texas Governor.
Another couple who has owned a home at Lake Diversion for 37 years, Gaylon and Elileen Siber are fortunate enough to have a home in Burkburnett they will move to. However, he celebrated his eightieth birthday the day before they received the certified letter they were being evicted, so the move will not be easy.
“I had a feeling a good while back when we heard property could not be sold or leased unless the taxes were paid up. They didn’t want to get stuck with taxes,” said Siber.
The couple became permanent residents of the lake in 1990 when Siber retired and they leased their Burkburnett home out. Now they have to ask their renters to move so they can move back.
Siber said he has always been aware that that making improvements on leased property was a risk.
“In 1976, I had my friend and fellow Aggie Attorney Barnie Fudge (now Judge Fudge) to look at the year to year lease and he told me we had no rights and wouldn’t put money into property that was leased.” said Siber. “He said if they want to change anything they can.” We paid $30 a year then.”
But, that doesn’t lesson Siber’s concern for his neighbors who are disabled, elderly, and have no where to go.
“We have a disabled veteran and some who lives on social security. They can’t afford rent,” said Siber.
He is also concerned for the Waggoner Estate employees who could lose their jobs and the Iowa Park School District who will lose tax revenue.
“The Iowa Park School District will lose money because we pay school taxes. I have always paid my taxes, but I won’t this year. What are they going to do, put a lean on my property?”
According to records with the Archer County Tax office, in 2015 there were 88 structures at Lake Diversion in the Iowa Park School District with a total value of $580,000 which generates just under $8,000 in tax revenue for the school district, that will be lost.
Siber said there is a state law that says so much property has to be available for recreational.
The letter Lake Diversion residents received stated “W.T. Waggoner Estate, Inc., ... has decided to change the use of the land in Cara Blanca Park on February 1, 2017, and return the lake shoreline to its natural, uninhabited landscape to support and improve the microecosystem in and around Lake Diversion.”
A man answered the phone at Dundee State Fish Hatchery, located on Lake Diversion, said the fish hatchery will not be affected by the changes being made at the lake.
Annette Ellis had expressed the her opinion.
“This is a beautiful lake. I have always felt blessed to live here. Do you think they are going to let this place lay barren? No, I don’t,” said Ellis.
However, many of the residents feel he plans to turn it into some type resort or hunting lease.
Some people have said the humane thing for Kroenke to do would be to give the displaced families money to help them pay for another home. But most don’t feel he cares about the lives he has turned upside down.
A Go Fund Me Account has been set up for the residents with the donations to be divided between those who live at Cara Blanca Park.
The account can be found by going to Lake Diversion Go Fund account.
This is the first part of a series regarding Lake Diversion.