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Sunpiper challenge to move forward

By LORRI HELFAND
Published February 6, 2007


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A Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge ruled Monday that a challenge to Largo's annexation of a troubled mobile home park will move forward.

Key Largo Communities, which bought the Sunpiper Mobile Home Park in late June, challenged the 2005 annexation following a code enforcement crackdown last summer.

"This is a major victory for Key Largo and for the citizens and for due process," Key Largo's attorney, Brian Battaglia, said after the hearing.

Despite the setback, City Attorney Alan Zimmet said the annexation will be upheld.

"Ultimately, we're going to prevail," Zimmet said. "They don't have the right to bring this action."

During the 80-minute hearing, Zimmet argued that Key Largo had no grounds to challenge the annexation in the first place because it didn't own the property at the time it was annexed.

Key Largo had asked that the court direct the city to respond to Key Largo's allegations of an improper annexation.

Judge Amy Williams said there were grounds to challenge the annexation because both sides agreed that the same company owned the property when the park was annexed. And Key Largo had presented evidence that the former owner had not consented to the annexation.

But Williams also found that Key Largo was not an affected party under the state statute dealing with annexations, which may inhibit its ability to recover attorney fees.

No matter, said Andrea Trani, president of Key Largo. She vowed to spend whatever it takes to win.

Friction between the city and Key Largo goes back to July, when city inspectors descended on the Sunpiper Mobile Home Park, which was later renamed No Go Largo as a protest of the annexation and code enforcement case.

Officials condemned at least 13 of about 70 units and cited the park for numerous violations, including exposed electrical wiring, sewage leaks, tenants living in homes without electricity, unpermitted construction, work without asbestos remediation, rental units missing hurricane tie-downs, holes in floors and exterior walls, blocked fire rescue exits and missing smoke detectors.

Battaglia contended that Largo had no jurisdiction because the property was illegally annexed. Records show that the former owner wasn't informed before the annexation and didn't sign an annexation petition.

The city said the annexation was proper and that the owners waited longer than the statutory requirement of 30 days to challenge the annexation.

Both parties pointed to property ownership to support their case.

The park property has had three recent owners.

R2 Property Co. owned the park until June 29. That's when it conveyed the park to a company represented by Patrick Byrne. The same day, Byrne's company deeded it to the current owner, Key Largo Communities.

Byrne signed an annexation petition in March 2005, more than a year before his company purchased the property.

An attorney for Jeff Shadowens, vice president of R2 Property Co., which owned the property at the time of the annexation, later wrote to the city that Shadowens didn't consent to the annexation and that Byrne didn't have authority to agree to it.

But in court the city argued that R2 Property never legally challenged the annexation and that once Byrne's company took ownership, Key Largo Communities' argument about ownership became moot.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 727 445-4155.

[Last modified February 5, 2007, 21:51:15]


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