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Residents of RV park want to stay

People in and around Cypress Pointe RV Resort in Palm Harbor protest plans to build stores there.

By ROBERT FARLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 8, 2001


People in and around Cypress Pointe RV Resort in Palm Harbor protest plans to build stores there.

CLEARWATER -- Hoping to soften the blow of being moved out to make way for a Target and home improvement store, the owner of Cypress Pointe RV Resort in Palm Harbor and a developer have offered residents a year of free rent at another park and relocation expenses.

But on Monday dozens of Cypress Pointe residents and dozens of neighbors packed a zoning examiner's hearing at the County Courthouse to oppose a rezoning needed to move forward with the plan.

While neighbors of the recreational-vehicle park warned of traffic, light and noise pollution, and the project's environmental impact on Lake Tarpon, most Cypress Pointe residents focused on the trauma of losing their homes.

Deborah Doran of Cypress Pointe talked about the oak tree that overhangs her house and the sound of squirrels playing on her roof. She talked about the expensive permanent additions she made, like a carport, to make her unit more like a home.

"It's a little piece of heaven on earth," she said.

She doesn't want to move.

"To put us out and have us lose our homes is very devastating at this time of our lives," said Shirley Lynch, a widow who said she is "going on 80."

Although many people might think all recreational vehicles are on wheels and can be easily moved, most of the RVs at Cypress Pointe are more permanent, said William Braden, who has been living for 13 years in a park model.

"It's permanently set in the ground," Braden said. "It's not easily movable. It is going to be a real hardship on people to move."

Braden says his move might cost about $5,000.

Timothy A. Johnson Jr., an attorney for the buyer, Commercial Development Associates of Tampa, said those who put on expensive porches or other additions did so at their own risk.

"To be frank, people take a risk when they get these kinds of improvements to their homes when they are on a short-term lease," he said.

Johnson said residents, who now are on a 6-month lease, ought to count on moving.

"This park is for sale whether we buy it or someone else buys it," Johnson said. "This park is going to be sold."

Maurice Wilder, president of the company that owns the RV Resort, has offered the roughly 500 residents free rent for a year at another of his 11 RV parks in Florida.

As a further "goodwill" gesture, Johnson said, Commercial Development has offered to pay $300,000 to $400,000 to offset moving expenses.

For those whose units that cannot be moved, Johnson said, Wilder has offered to sell them new units at heavily discounted rates. For example, he said, Wilder has offered to sell $20,000 units for $12,500.

In addition, Johnson said, Wilder has assured that if they move to the Sundance Lakes Travel Resort in Port Richey, there would be no efforts to sell the park for at least three years.

Land-use planner Ethel Hammer, testifying on behalf of Commercial Development, said the area is under-served for retail. The use would fit in with the surrounding commercial corridor on U.S. 19, she said.

Although there will certainly be an increase in the traffic immediately adjacent to the property, said traffic consultant Steve Henry, the overall traffic burden on the area would be "negligible" because area residents won't have to drive as far to get to retail outlets.

As part of the plan, Commercial Development is proposing to add a traffic light on U.S. 19 at the south end of the property, to link up with Cypress Pond Road by the Palm Harbor Muvico.

A new addition to the plan calls for as many as 15 homes on 6.5 acres along the lakefront, between the lake the stores.

Charlotte Whiting of Cypress Pointe argued the added congestion will increase the number of traffic accidents on an already accident-prone stretch of road.

"To rezone this land would not only be a gross misuse of land, it would cause an unacceptable amount of traffic and accidents," she said.

Loren Westenberger, a certified arborist who spoke on behalf of the park residents, said the plan endangered an environmentally sensitive tract. There are hundreds of trees on the site, including oak, pine and cypress. The trees are important for the bald eagles that sometimes visit Lake Tarpon, as well as osprey and egrets, Westenberger said.

"We don't want to be known as Pine-less County," he said.

Mary Ann Knight of nearby Big Bass Drive said the stores would ruin the beauty of Lake Tarpon.

"We have something that's very unique in this county," she said, "a large beautiful lake surrounded by pristine land."

Johnson argued the environmental impact on the lake would lessen with the proposed development. Instead of the hundreds of residents who now have access to the lake from the site, only a dozen homeowners would be on the lake.

The examiner's hearing was postponed until June 4. The examiner's board, which is comprised of county staff, will then make a recommendation. Any plan would ultimately require approval from the County Commission.

- Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185.

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