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Golden Lantern reaches agreement

Seventy-two homeowners would receive about $17,000 each to move. But first there's a zoning snag.

By ANNE LINDBERG
Published February 8, 2006


PINELLAS PARK - Although no contracts have been signed, most of the homeowners at the Golden Lantern Mobile Home Park have agreed to accept money to drop their opposition to land-use and zoning changes that would allow apartments, townhomes and a retail strip center to be built on the property.

"We've reached an agreement in principle," said Clearwater attorney Tim Johnson, who represents the developer, Triax. "The final documents are being prepared."

But questions remain that could derail the rezoning and the settlement, which hinges on the granting of the land-use and zoning change. Those issues have to do with whether the Golden Lantern is in an "A" or a "B" hurricane zone. If it is an "A," a developer would be restricted to a lower density of housing than what is proposed for the property.

One map shows the park in an "A" zone, and another shows it in a "B."

Representatives of Triax have been working with the county and Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council to iron out the confusion. But confusion still reigned Monday at a meeting of a countywide group of planners that makes recommendations to the Pinellas Planning Council, which, in turn, makes recommendations to the Pinellas County Commission.

"Is it a B? Is it an A?" asked Fred Metcalf, a Gulfport city planner. "I'm not sure."

Dean Neal, the Pinellas Park planner who heads the group, agreed, saying, "It's a mess."

So members of the planning group unanimously made a bifurcated recommendation: If the maps eventually show the Golden Lantern in the "A" zone, they would recommend denying the land-use change. If the Golden Lantern is eventually determined to be in the "B" zone, they would recommend allowing the change.

If the hurricane zone issue is resolved in favor of the developer, many of the mobile home owners who live in the park, at 7950 Park Blvd., would withdraw their objections to the change under the proposed settlement agreement, Johnson said.

Seventy-two homeowners would each receive around $17,000 for their mobile homes. That would bring the total settlement to about $1.2-million. They would also have to vacate the park within six months of the agreement's being signed.

In return, they would give up their rights to moving expenses under state law as well as their ability under a recently passed county ordinance to rental assistance for two years after the park closes.

"It is a great deal," Johnson said.

Golden Lantern Mobile Homeowners Association leaders have said they are under a "gag order" not to speak about certain details of the agreement but issued a press release saying that 72 members of the association had agreed to let the group negotiate a settlement.

Johnson denied that he had imposed any sort of gag order. He said he understood that there are 73 members of the association and that only Charles Plancon refused to go along with the deal.

Johnson said there are other mobile home owners at the Golden Lantern who are not members of the association and who will not share in the settlement. It's unclear how many people that might be.

Plancon said Tuesday that he thinks there are 103 homeowners in all. He agreed that he had refused to allow the association to negotiate for him.

It's a matter of making sure any settlement repays him for all his losses, Plancon said.

His losses, he says, are not limited to the loss of his and his children's home. They include home improvements and reimbursement for the time he has spent researching the law and lobbying against the change. Plancon estimated that to be 2,600 hours.

"Would Mr. Johnson give away 2,600 of his hours?" Plancon asked.

It's also a matter of principle, he said. Signing such an agreement might eliminate other rights he might have, he said. He also wants to make sure any rezoning and land-use changes are done correctly.

Thus far, he said, that has not happened.

"You have an entire county government playing games," he said.

The county, he said, has denied the homeowners due process rights and is changing rules simply to allow the Golden Lantern change to go through. The hurricane map confusion is a prime example of that, he said.

[Last modified February 8, 2006, 01:15:22]


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