Mobile home park gets the green light for townhomes
The owner of Sanderwood Village, at 13th Avenue and 24th Street N, is granted a rezoning.
By CARRIE JOHNSONTimes Staff Writer
Published December 18, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - They called them the "holdouts," the 12 residents of the Sanderwood Village Mobile Home Park who didn't want to leave.
Some are too sick to move. Others say they are too poor. But on Thursday, the City Council dealt them a major defeat, approving the property owner's request to rezone the land to build townhomes.
Council members said they had no choice but to grant the request because the owner, Marcus Vernon, had followed all city and state rules.
"I apologize because I wish we could do something, but we can't get into that arrangement," said council member James Bennett.
Council members voted 5-3 to approve the request. John Bryan, Virginia Littrell and Jay Lasita dissented.
Sanderwood Village, at 13th Avenue and 24th Street N, at one time housed about 65 residents. Vernon bought it about two years ago.
Thursday was not the first time council members were asked to weigh in on the dispute between Vernon and the residents. In June, they denied his request for rezoning, saying he did not show proof of adequate housing for residents to move.
According to state law, buyers of mobile home parks must show that there are adequate options for displaced residents. Since his last appearance, Vernon had settled with more than 50 residents. Many had relocated. Others were waiting until after the winter to move.
Vernon said he tried to bargain with the 12 remaining residents but said he was blocked by their lawyer, Christopher Kuhn.
Vernon said Kuhn's only attempt at negotiation was a lump settlement of $275,000, which Vernon considered unreasonable.
"We're trying to be accommodating, but there's not an unlimited well of money," he said.
Kuhn said the $275,000 was a starting figure and he was willing to discuss the sum with Vernon.
"This is just a situation where he's trying to save as much money as he can," Kuhn said.
Vernon argued that residents have plenty of alternatives. He provided council members with a chart showing 192 available mobile home spaces within 5 to 10 miles of Sanderwood. He said several of the holdouts were seasonal residents who could easily afford to move.
But Kuhn said that many of the spaces Vernon suggested were unsuitable because rents were higher than Sanderwood's, which charged an average of $196 per month.
During a public hearing, some residents said they would have to choose between medication and rent if forced to move.
"I think it's a dirty shame that people are going to get pushed out of their homes for a fraction of what they're worth," said Joe Falardue, a Sanderwood resident.
Several council members said they wished residents had tried harder to settle with Vernon.
"If I were sitting in your shoes, to have this thing go on one more minute would drive me nuts," Lasita said.
Under state law, people who own their mobile homes receive $3,000 for a single-wide and $6,000 for a double-wide to move. If the home can't be moved, the owners receive $1,375 for a single-wide and $2,750 for a double-wide. The case isn't over. Kuhn said he plans to continue the fight in court.