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    Park's tenants brace for possible move

    Holiday Campground soon might give way to a $100-million residential development.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001


    SEMINOLE -- Betty Register plans to attend next month's City Council meeting. But she doesn't plan to tell her story, as she did at the public meeting she attended Monday.

    Why bother, she said. None of the members of the city's Land Development Review Board listened to her Monday, when they unanimously approved zoning changes for Holiday Campground, where Mrs. Register has lived since 1987.

    The campground owners, the Baynard family of St. Petersburg, want to sell the land at 10000 Park Blvd. to developers. In Pinellas County, where undeveloped land is rare, the story of a mobile home park or campsite being taken over for redevelopment is not uncommon.

    It has happened in Clearwater. It has happened in Largo. And it may happen at Holiday Campground, where developers want to build a $100-million residential community that would replace the 30-year-old park.

    Although the request still needs the approval of the City Council, many of the park's tenants feel it's a done deal and are coming to terms with the possibility of moving. They are looking for a new place to live or a buyer for their mobile home.

    "I'm just going to be looking at different parks now," Mrs. Register said.

    Mrs. Register, 73, was one of about 400 people, mostly elderly tenants of the campground, who attended the review board's monthly meeting Monday at Seminole Community Library.

    They showed up en masse to protest the development of the campground, which sits on a 101-acre parcel across Park Boulevard from the entrance to Lake Seminole Park. Only 50 acres are usable because the land borders Long Bayou and a wetlands system that is environmentally fragile.

    "The handwriting is on the wall," said Harold Nielsen, 78, a retired engineer who spends winters at Holiday Campground. "We may just as well get out of here because you're going to see condominiums here."

    The property's land use and zoning designations allow for hotels, motels, inns, resorts and recreational vehicle parks. The question appears to be when, not if, redevelopment will happen.

    "They're dealing with a private enterprise and as long as it's in the law, that private enterprise doesn't have to respond to their pressure," said Jeff Etter of Seminole, who, along with a group of residents, successfully fought a $6.8-million county road-widening project on Old Oakhurst Road a couple years ago.

    "They're in a tough position," Etter said of the campground's tenants. "I would check out getting financial assistance for relocating."

    That's what happened to the former tenants of Lake Seminole Campsite, which closed in 1998 to make room for a Home Depot. The store on Park Boulevard, which is less than 1 mile from Holiday Campground, opened in 1999.

    By law, Home Depot didn't have to give the residents a cent. All the company had to do was give the mobile home owners a year to move, as the law stipulates.

    But the company had its image to think of and gave financial help to the campsite's mobile home residents. Home Depot would not disclose the amount.

    "I would try to make a friend out of a foe," Etter said.

    Joyce Tarajos, 60, said she would hate to give up her winter home at Holiday Campground. But she is more concerned with the elderly, year-round residents who live there, she said. Most seem resigned to the fact that the owners will sell the land, she said.

    "As far as the attitude and the enthusiasm of our people, I don't think it's there anymore," Mrs. Tarajos said. "They've gotten beaten down once before, I think they think it's going to happen again."

    -- Staff writer Maureen Byrne can be reached at 445-4163 or at byrne@sptimes.com.

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