SEMINOLE — Last August, Chuck Mirasola proudly planted six slash pine trees in his front yard. Sometime in the next few days, he'll rip them out. The tale between those two events involves a move, two lawsuits and a heart attack.
To fully understand the story behind Mirasola's trees, you have to go back about 13 years when the retired autoworker and his wife, Jane, moved here from Buffalo, N.Y.
They bought a mobile home on the lake in Bay Pines Mobile Home Park, across the street from the VA hospital.
"I had a nice place," Mirasola said.
He added a porch on the lake side, redid the whole house. In all, he put about $50,000 into the home he and his wife thought they'd have forever. That's what the community's prospectus promised.
"It was beautiful," Mirasola said. "It was a real community."
Life was good for 10 years.
Then came developer John Loder, whose company bought the 59 acres for $38.5 million from the E.J. Bickley Trust in 2006. By the end of the year, hundreds of mostly elderly residents had been tossed out of the 500 homes. Some found new housing. Some found rentals. Some died.
Mirasola, a feisty sort, said he hung on to the bitter end.
"I didn't believe it was going to happen. I really didn't," said Mirasola, now 67. "I didn't believe in America they were going to throw you out of a house like that. … It really did a number on me, losing my home."
When Mirasola finally accepted reality, he did two things: He joined other residents in suing Seminole attorneys DeLoach & Hofstra, who had been the trustees for the Bickley Trust. The homeowners argued that the Bay Pines prospectus had promised them the property would be a mobile home park until at least 2020. DeLoach & Hofstra, they said, violated that contract. That lawsuit is ongoing.
Mirasola also bought a home in Tamarac for $150,000. Tamarac by the Gulf is a community of 386 homes in unincorporated Seminole. It is a quiet neighborhood, with a clubhouse, pool and pages and pages of rules posted on the community's Web site.
Mirasola picked Tamarac because "I could see what was going on with the mobile home parks (and) I didn't think I'd have any trouble here."
That has been true, except for one small flap over some lattice Mirasola tacked up to screen his garbage cans.
"I heard from the (homeowners association) that you can't put lattice up, even though it's not written anywhere," he said.
Mirasola didn't argue, even though other homes have latticework and he "thought it was ridiculous." He took the lattice down.
"I think they kind of considered me trailer trash because of where I came from," he said.
Then last year, Mirasola paid about $30 each for six small slash pines, native to Pinellas County. He planted them along the side of his property that faces 90th Avenue. Soon, he heard from the homeowners association.
"They're saying it's going to disturb the irrigation lines and I'm supposed to get permission and I didn't get permission," Mirasola said.
He didn't argue, but he also didn't take down his trees. Instead, he ignored the situation.
Wrong decision. The homeowners association sued him in January. The attorneys: DeLoach & Hofstra. Specifically Peter Hofstra.
Mirasola was stunned.
"I thought there was a conspiracy going on," he said. "I couldn't believe it. I'm 99 percent sure there can't have been, (but) there's always that question in the back of my mind if he was doing it to get back at me."
Neither Hofstra nor the association would comment for this story.
Mirasola was ready to fight until he had his heart attack in March. One day, the doctor asked if he was under any special stress. Mirasola told him. The doctor had one word for his patient:
• • •
He's paying $1,150 to reimburse the homeowners association for attorney fees. He's preparing to take out his trees, but is waiting for representatives to drop by and tell him where he can plant the two trees he's allowed to keep. He thinks it's going to be near his house. The other four he'll give away or toss.
Mirasola's not done fighting, though. The Bay Pines suit is still alive and kicking.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.