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Largo mobile home park to be condemned

Bathing in a vacant trailer down the street.

Boiling bottled water to wash dishes.

Collecting rainwater to flush toilets.

That's how 34 residents at a Largo mobile home park have been coping since the water in their park was shut off a week ago.

Now, they'll have to find new homes because the owner of No Go Largo Village mobile home park has not paid the water bill since late July.

"I'm trying not to cry," said resident Rebecca Rader, 49, who said she paid $600 in rent two weeks ago. "I'm trying not to be emotional."

This morning, the city plans to condemn her home and all remaining units at the park because the lack of running water is a violation of Largo standard housing codes, said Carol Stricklin, community development director. The condemnations follow 13 others after a spate of violations two years ago.

Largo is scrambling to find temporary housing for the 18 adults and 16 children who live in eight of about 60 units at the park at 1760 Clearwater-Largo Road.

Stricklin said this was an unusual situation, the first time she was aware of such a large-scale city relocation effort not tied to a park purchase or emergency, such as a fire.

"I'm just hoping we can get some help because we don't have anywhere to go," said Selena Vesey, 25, who is seven months' pregnant. "We put everything we had into here."

Her neighbors comforted her as she sobbed Tuesday, fearing that the upheaval will ruin her chances to regain custody of her three children. She and her husband paid $450 to move into the two-bedroom unit three weeks ago just to have a place large enough for the kids, she said.

Darren Combs, who was working as a park maintenance man to pay rent, said he's not sure how he and his wife, Cheryl, will come up with money for a new place either. He has third-stage liver disease and suffered a heart attack a month ago, he said.

"We have no money," said Combs, 48, who has five children, ages 1 to 12.

About 1 p.m. Tuesday, the city dropped off a pallet of bottled water for people at the park.

"Oh, my gosh," said Rader, tearing up. "I can't believe this. They're trying to help us."

The park owner, Key Largo Communities Corp., owes almost $8,400 on its water bill for the property, and the bill hasn't been paid since July 25, according to Pinellas County Utilities.

Calls to the home and cell phones for Key Largo president Andrea Trani, 58, and her partner, Helene Provenzano, 45, were not returned Tuesday.

But Stricklin said the city's building official spoke with Provenzano about citing the owner for lack of water and the need to uproot residents.

"(Provenzano) said something along the lines of 'Do what you need to do,' " Stricklin said.

In late February, the park owner announced a plan to evict all tenants and turn the park into a modular home community with Key West-style "dream houses in bright tropical colors." Back then, residents were told they had 30 days to vacate. The owner continued to rent at least some of the units at the park.

John Fappiano and his girlfriend, Patricia Palmieri, paid $300 to move into the park two weeks ago with their four children, hoping to make a fresh start, they say. They were told the new units were coming, Palmieri said.

Once units are posted uninhabitable today, residents will have a day to find new homes, Stricklin said. Catholic Charities and other resources will be on hand to assist them, she said.

Other financial issues have apparently been brewing for the owner in recent months. In August, Hudo Lending LLC filed a suit against Key Largo Communities, Trani and her partner to foreclose on a $1.4-million loan used to buy the mobile home park. The suit also sought to have a receiver appointed to oversee the property.

The city of Largo has had friction with the park owners tracing back to two years ago, shortly after Key Largo bought the park. City inspectors then found 150 code violations, including exposed electrical wiring, construction without permits and leaking sewage. In 2006, Key Largo Communities changed the park's name from Sunpiper to No Go Largo in protest and went to court to prove the park wasn't in Largo. It challenged the city's annexation of its property a year before Key Largo bought it. But last month a Circuit Court judge dismissed that case.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Largo mobile home park to be condemned 10/07/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 13, 2008 1:53pm]
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