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Largo commissioners, caught off-guard by the fliers, calm down residents in fear of losing their homes.
By KELLEY BENHAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 6, 2003
LARGO -- Dorothy Tyke was getting out of the shower when she heard a racket outside. Then she found a flier on her door.
"This is your last chance," it said, in heavy black letters an inch high.
It told her and other residents at Belleair Village mobile home park that "your future is going to be presented to the Largo City Commission," and to "voice your concerns about losing your homes" at the commission meeting Tuesday night.
The flier was not signed, and it did not say who might take her home, or why.
But Mrs. Tyke, 69, went to the meeting, and so did about 120 residents from mobile home parks along Clearwater-Largo Road, where as many as 600 to 700 fliers had been wedged into doorways. They packed the commission chambers so full the crowd spilled out into the next room. They were working people and retirees, some of them holding fliers, most of them suddenly afraid.
The commission -- which had planned to appoint a new commissioner, not to talk about mobile home parks -- was caught a bit unprepared, said Mayor Bob Jackson.
"Anyone would be concerned if they got a flier like that," he said.
Commissioners calmed residents by telling them no action was planned that night.
"I'm here to tell you this is erroneous," Jackson said, shaking the flier from the dais. "It's an act of cowardice."
But the buzz and suspicion lasted longer than the meeting, as no one stepped to the podium to take credit, or blame, for the fliers.
But button-wearing political candidates Marty Shelby and Ernie Bach took advantage of the crowd to shake hands and pass out cards, and a number of observers cast a suspicious eye on them and their supporters.
"There's a move out there to use mobile home residents to discredit the commission," Jackson said. "It's probably political."
Jackson faces Shelby in next month's election. Commissioner Jean Halvorsen faces Bach for seat 4.
Shelby said Wednesday he didn't make the flier and he doesn't know who did. But he did do some politicking while he had the chance.
"You know, I thought that was something I should take advantage of," he said. But the fliers were not a political stunt, he said.
"Anyone who would say that is in a state of denial as to the circumstances behind this entire issue," he said.
Residents should be alarmed, he said, at the city's plan to design redevelopment districts that will make it easier for developers to turn mobile home parks into condominiums or apartments. The districts will ease restrictions along Clearwater-Largo Road and increase the density allowed in those areas.
In response to concerns that redevelopment will displace hundreds of mobile home dwellers, the city slowed down its plans and appointed a task force to write protections for those residents. The recommendations ranged from insisting developers who buy parks pay residents a fair replacement value for their mobile homes to making low-interest loans available for mobile home residents who might want to pool resources and buy the park grounds.
Jackson said the commission is looking out for the residents. The mayor said he isn't sure who distributed the fliers, but "Don Hazelton has to take responsibility for it."
Hazelton, president of the state's Federation of Manufactured Home Owner and a Shelby supporter, said some of the protections the task force wrote are fine, but they don't go far enough and he doesn't trust the commission to enact them.
"I've been raising questions. I maybe got some people stirred up," Hazelton said. "Will I accept the blame for those fliers? Hypothetically, yeah, probably.
"If you want to give me the blame, I'll take it. I've got big shoulders. It is not politically motivated, I give you my word on that."
But he didn't make them and he didn't hand them out, they weren't his idea and if he knows whose idea they were, he isn't saying.
"I've got an alibi," he said.
City planner Rich Cannone said the city got 20 calls from people, some of whom thought the city was going to snatch their homes away.
"They were really confused," he said. He met with residents at Mrs. Tyke's park Wednesday morning and is setting up more meetings at other parks in the coming weeks.
The task force's recommendations are scheduled to come before the commission later this month, but that date could be moved back now, he said.
Cannone tried to find out who sent the fliers. He went so far as to call printing companies to see who commissioned the job. "It's a mystery," he said, although he has his suspicions.
Mrs. Tyke got a look at the two men who circulated the flier in her neighborhood. She didn't know them, she said.
"But I think I could identify them," she said.