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Mobile home park to be replaced

Developers will be allowed to turn the Tradewinds into a subdivision of homes and duplex condos; residents of the park will get eviction notices.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000


LECANTO -- After hearing the vote that would change their lives forever, Tradewinds Marina and Mobile Home Park residents gathered in small groups Thursday morning to comfort one another and talk about the tough times to come.

The county's Planning and Development Review Board surprised no one by approving a change in land-use designation that will allow developers to turn the low-income development, home to 103 people, into a modern subdivision of 45 free-standing homes and duplex condominiums.

The park's full- and part-time residents will be receiving eviction notices soon, giving them a year to find new housing.

Many of the residents are elderly. One of them is Ruby Jester, whose life had just been uprooted by the emotional, unanimous vote.

"It stinks," the 80-year-old widow said.

The Tradewinds, which sits on 17 acres off the Homosassa River, is close to everything she needs to survive.

"I don't see well," Jester said. "I can drive the little distance. We can go to church and I can go to the store . . . and go to the post office. I'm independent."

Longtime Tradewinds owner Donna Acree asked the board to amend the property's master plan, saying the mobile home park was a money loser.

County staff recommended approval of the application, offering reasons that suggest Old Homosassa, which remains a fishing village in many ways, and other mobile home parks in Citrus may see major changes in the near future.

As weary residents looked on, the debate frequently got lost in money issues and dry technicalities.

Carl Bertoch, a Crystal River lawyer representing the residents, tried to convince board members they needed to guarantee the residents new housing, even compensation, before the evictions occur. But board members decided they had no legal grounds to deny the land reclassification.

"Everybody on the board probably has an emotional football in their stomachs because we're displacing people," board member James Kellner said. "Unfortunately, we can't look at it this way. This is a private-property issue. They have rights as well."

The existing development falls far short of regulations, community development manager Larry Frey told board members. Most of the units lie below the flood safety elevations and do not meet current housing codes. If the county ever decided to widen Fishbowl Drive, some of the units would have to be removed because they sit in the right-of-way.

Septic tanks present another problem, Frey said. The county plans to install a central sewer line down Fishbowl Drive, and residents would be required to hook up, probably at a cost of several thousand dollars each.

Acree's lawyer, Jim Neal of Inverness, said rents are too low to support the park's maintenance and infrastructure needs.

"Mrs. Acree finds herself in a very difficult situation," Neal said. "Her business has failed."

Real estate broker Wayne Kelly, who is helping Acree sell the land, attempted to show that residents have many housing options in Citrus, Levy and Hernando counties, presenting board members with figures stating there are 143 mobile home parks in the area and more than a dozen subsidized housing complexes.

After the meeting, he promised to help residents find new housing at no charge.

While emphasizing the personal losses, Bertoch failed to sway the board to force compensation for the residents. Assistant County Attorney Carl Kern said such a option was found to be unconstitutional by the First District Court of Appeals in north Florida.

Bertoch said he is looking over his options, which include filing a case over the compensation provision.

As she left the meeting room, Acree seemed relieved.

"These people were my friends," she said. "I hope people don't think too badly of me."

In her opinion, the future hardships are being exaggerated because, of the more than 100 residents, only about 30 live in the park full time.

But residents, both young and old, could not hide their resentment. They said Acree should have told them the property was for sale.

"Everybody liked them," said Nancy Buschey, 47, who purchased a mobile home from Acree's son last April and helped manage the property for a year. "Why couldn't they have put little notes in our mailboxes?"

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