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Linger Longer Mobile Home Park gone, lot rezoned
The landowners say residents were relocated; their lawyer says, evicted.
By ELENA LESLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published October 4, 2007
TARPON SPRINGS - Two years ago, city commissioners shot down a request to rezone the Linger Longer Mobile Home Park because they worried development would displace residents.
Tuesday night, commissioners again considered the request. This time, they gave their approval.
Unlike two years ago, the residents who challenged development - and showed up en masse at the meeting - were nowhere to be found in City Hall.
Or at the park itself. The land has been scraped clean, with only a few telltale concrete trailer slabs peeking out from the grass.
Linger Longer's residents were all "successfully relocated," said Ed Armstrong, the attorney for the site's property owners.
Lawyer Christopher Kuhn has a different take on the exodus.
"They were evicted," said Kuhn, who represented park residents who opposed relocating. "They were forced out against their will."
Armstrong said he wasn't familiar with the specifics of the relocation. The property owners declined to comment.
What's important now is that the park is vacant and, given the commission's approval, prime for development, Armstrong said.
The land's previous zoning, which allowed only mobile home or RV parks, "dampened interest" in the property, he said. Of the 20 acres, about half sat in the city and half in the county, an arrangement that further complicated development.
At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners voted to annex the 10.19 acres outside the city and rezone the entire park medium-density residential, which will allow for about 250 units.
While the vote on annexation was unanimous, Commissioner Peter Dalacos voted against the rezoning because of density concerns.
The property owners now "plan to actively market the land as a development community," Armstrong said.
Critics of the project say they wish that hadn't meant scattering the community who lived there.
"This isn't a pretty scenario," Kuhn said. "Money drives everything."
When the rezoning proposal came before the commission in 2005, nearly half of the park's roughly 100 residents showed up at City Hall, many speaking out against development.
"These are their homes; whether it's rich enough for me or you doesn't matter," Mayor Beverley Billiris said at the time. "Displacing people, I have a problem with. I'm not having it on my conscience."
After the defeat, Linger Longer's property owners told park residents to leave, Kuhn said. Some in the community hoped to raise funds to buy the park themselves, but most lived on modest incomes and couldn't match big development money.
Things got nasty. The homeowners association lodged a suit against the property owners. The property owners filed eviction lawsuits against individuals in the community.
Ultimately, the park residents "did not prevail" in court, Kuhn said.
In a parallel effort, middle school teacher Margaret Paschal was trying to save a community landmark, the park's clubhouse. Built in the 1920s, its cypress woodwork and arched doorways immediately captured the heart of the self-described "native Floridian Cracker girl."
This, too, was a lost cause.
Though Paschal claimed she found someone who could move the structure, she said it would have been a long and involved process.
Before it could get under way, the clubhouse was demolished.
"It was horrible," said Paschal, who was allowed to salvage some doors and decorative items from the structure.
After tearing down the clubhouse, workers began clearing out the rest of the park during the summer of 2006, she said. According to Kuhn, residents were not offered help in finding new homes.
He criticized commissioners for initially denying the rezoning request because of resident displacement, then approving it once they'd already been evicted.
"This way they don't have to look like the bad guys," Kuhn said.
But Commissioner Dalacos said whether or not the property owner went ahead with evictions was out of the commissioners' control.
Of the resident relocations he said: "It's not a relevant factor at this time since the property is vacant."