Approximately $1 million worth of capital improvements are slated to be made by the new owner of the Lake Villa Manufactured Home Community in Oxford Township.
“(In) the next 120 days, everybody will see a huge difference in the community here,” said Edith Belen, Lake Villa’s new manager.
Belen works for the Bloomfield Hills-based Meritus Communities, which recently closed on its purchase of Lake Villa.
Meritus now owns a total of 18 manufactured home communities. Sixteen are located in Michigan, one in Kansas and one in Missouri, according to the company website www.merituscommunitiesmhc.com.
Lake Villa has been looking pretty shabby in recent years due to changes in ownership and management.
When she saw it for the first time, Belen, who’s been managing manufactured home communities for 25 years, admitted her impression of the park was “not real good.”
“It needs a lot of work,” she said.
Meritus Communities has a whole laundry list of improvements planned.
“I’m up for the challenge,” Belen said. “I believe this (park) could be beautiful. This is going to be gorgeous.”
According to her, an estimated 60 percent of Lake Villa’s asphalt streets are soon going to be milled and resurfaced as part of a $250,000 project.
Street portions that are sill in “decent” shape will be sealcoated for now.
“Any areas that we can’t do this year, we’ll be doing next year,” she said.
Belen expects the road work to start in mid-to-late May and not take very long to complete.
“They’re quick,” she said. “In our other communities, they’ve been pretty fast. I would say a couple weeks or so.”
Meritus plans to add a new playground with equipment and benches, plus a half-court basketball court in order to provide recreational opportunities for Lake Villa’s youth.
“There’s nothing really here for the kids,” Belen said. “We’re a family community. We feel we should provide great service to our residents.”
Lake Villa’s clubhouse will undergo a major renovation.
According to Belen, the building will be repainted and new windows and cabinetry installed. It will be furnished with new tables and chairs, and made handicap-accessible.
To help residents stay in shape, Belen said two offices inside the clubhouse will be merged into a single room to create “a small fitness center.”
New signage and lighting will be erected at Lake Villa’s three entrances along Lakeville Rd. and all the street signs and stop signs throughout the park will be replaced.
The pole barn that houses Lake Villa’s maintenance equipment will be torn down and a new one erected in a different location.
A custom manufactured home will be added to Lake Villa to serve as the community’s new main office and sales center.
In addition to improving Lake Villa’s infrastructure and enhancing its amenities, Meritus plans to immediately add 25 brand new homes, built by Champion Homes, to the park, according to Belen.
“Then, we’re ordering another 30,” she said.
Lake Villa currently has 851 home sites or lots. Of those, 564 have homes on them. Belen said 496 of those homes are occupied and 68 are empty.
This isn’t the first time Belen’s been involved in this type of major overhaul.
Prior to Oxford, she and her husband Glenn, who is Lake Villa’s new maintenance supervisor, spent a year-and-a-half overseeing Mill Pond Village, a Meritus-owned manufactured home community in Lansing.
“We did the same thing (there). We just went in and fixed up the community,” she said. “Everybody now that goes through the community wants to live there. We have a waiting list.”
Just as they did in Lansing, Belen and her husband will be living in Lake Villa.
“I’m just one of those managers that likes to be out in the community, talking with my residents, so I know what the needs are for the folks here,” she explained.
Under Belen’s management, Lake Villa residents can look forward to things like an annual party, complete with food, music, fun activities for kids and even clowns.
She also likes to help residents make ends meet.
Last year, Belen worked with a church in Lansing to provide backpacks and school supplies for the children of Mill Pond Village.
Meritus donated $500 toward the effort.
She would like to do the same thing in Lake Villa.
“I’m really looking to get involved in the community, so we can try to help some of the families in need,” Belen said.
Belen has been spending a lot of time talking with Lake Villa residents and she said those conversations have been quite encouraging.
“Everybody I’ve met so far has been really nice. They’ve thanked me and welcomed me,” she said. “I’m very excited to be here and I’m confident that we’re going to change this community in a very positive way.”