Felons' haven hits a problem

The mobile home park where sex offenders have moved is not zoned for residential use.

By S.I. Rosenbaum, Times Staff Writer
Published March 1, 2008

PALM RIVER - A mobile home park for sex offenders is not zoned for residential use, a Hillsborough County code enforcement investigator said Friday.

The land is zoned for industrial and commercial use, investigator Bill Langford said.

A Pinellas County-based nonprofit began quietly placing sex offenders in Julie's Mobile Home Park off 24th Avenue S in Palm River a few months ago.

Florida Justice Transitions Inc. houses about 100 newly released felons and sex offenders at its Pinellas site and was seeking to expand.

"The need is great," founder Nancy Morais said.

Last week, another nonprofit - Safety Awareness Advocacy, run by Judy Cornett of Lutz - alerted residents to the presence of the sex offenders.

At a meeting Thursday night at a local church, Cornett told residents that the eight sex offenders living in the park were a danger.

"Sex offenders will eventually attack," she said.

She also brought along a Hillsborough County sheriff's detective and Langford, to answer residents' questions.

That was how Langford got involved.

He toured the park and noted a few minor electrical problems. But his main concern is the park's improper zoning.

Many mobile home parks predate zoning ordinances, he said, and code enforcement doesn't have time to check them all.

"Our staff doesn't have a reason to look at zoning unless we're looking into a problem in the park," he said.

Now, the property's owner - listed in county records as John Buntin, who also owns the neighboring Advantage Steel - will be served with a 15-day notice to apply for a variance, Langford said.

And Langford also will be checking the zoning of other mobile home parks in the area to be fair, he said.

"For me to cite this individual and not cite the guy across the street if his zoning isn't right, that would be selective enforcement," Langford said.

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at (813) 661-2442.