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Losing ground

Residents of Riviera Harbor have been told their mobile home park is undergoing routine improvements, but all the signals suggest otherwise.

Published June 10, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - The residents know they're living on borrowed time. The signs are all around.

Mobile homes have been demolished. Others had the metal torn off and sold for scrap. And Canary Island date palms were dug up to be used at developments elsewhere.

The flattening of mobile home parks is a common sight across Pinellas County. Riviera Harbor on Tampa Bay is just the latest target.

New high-rise condominiums tower over the mangroves and look out over the water. Land along Gandy Boulevard that once held mobile home parks is vacant, awaiting a contractor's shovel.

Adding to the residents' anxiety is the fact that the adjacent vacant land, once the Snug Harbor and Pirates Cove mobile home parks, was purchased and razed by the same people who own Riviera Harbor.

Riviera is considered even more valuable because it has boat docks.

"If I lived in a waterfront mobile home park, I would definitely keep my antennas up," said Rick Butler, a real estate agent and member of the Pinellas Park City Council. "Anytime that you have the big desirables, (that property) would probably be No. 1 on the hit parade to redevelop."

Riviera mobile home owners have known for two years that the park had a limited shelf life. That's when Riviera-Pinellas Partnerships purchased the park.

The partnership's managers and founders are John Lum and Aram Guluzian, who also are behind another Gandy developer called List Group Developers.

Neither man returned repeated calls seeking comment. But workers on the property insisted that the current activity is about nothing more than park improvements.

Some of the homes being removed have code violations that would be too costly to repair, said Timothy Carter, one of the workers. Others belonged to people who were evicted and left belongings behind.

Carter said the property owners told them that the mobile homes will be replaced with new ones.

City records show multiple code citations that include such things as exposed wiring, missing jalousies, an opening in the wall of one trailer where the air conditioner was removed, loose and torn porch screens and a bent metal roof with loose areas.

Also, records from the Pinellas County Courthouse show at least a half-dozen evictions or judgments against former mobile home owners for nonpayment of lot rent.

St. Petersburg officials also said they have not received an application from owners to redevelop the property.

But that's of little reassurance to park residents, who are all too aware that mobile home parks seem to be a dying land use.

"We're just being forced out," said Pat Bratton, who has lived in Riviera Harbor for 13 years. Her husband has lived there for 33 years.

Peggy Rogers, another mobile home owner there, said the situation is reminiscent of her experience in the Snug Harbor Trailer Park before it finally closed: Rents increased. The park's owners quit cutting the grass. Roads went without repairs, and potential residents were not screened as closely.

The notice to leave came in December 2004.

She said she moved to Riviera Harbor because it was available, affordable and within walking distance of her job at the Crab Shack restaurant.

"Now we're going through it again, probably," Rogers said.

Bill Young moved into Riviera Harbor about a year and a half ago. In that short time, he said, "I've watched the park go downhill."

If the owners want to redevelop, that's fine, Young said.

"It's just the way they're going about it," Young said. "They could care less. It's as if the people don't even exist."

The company should wait until everyone is out rather than making life miserable for those who live there, he said.

[Last modified June 10, 2006, 07:31:08]

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