LARGO — A month after hitting the "pause" button on a developer's plans, Pinellas County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to allow a new 260-unit apartment complex to replace an old RV park near Largo Mall.
Commissioners had delayed approving the plan out of fear that many of the RV park's low-income residents could end up homeless because they couldn't afford to move. However, commissioners were swayed when the developer ponied up $30,000 for a relocation fund.
The apartments are to be built within three years on the site of the Briarwood Travel Villa and RV Park, which is along Seminole Boulevard just north of Ulmerton Road.
Although Briarwood is legally classified as an RV campground that caters to travelers and winter residents, a number of residents have lived there year-round for many years. Currently, there are 31 families remaining in the RV park's 138 spaces, with four families slated to move out this week, property manager Tina Harper told commissioners.
Developer Steve McConihay bought the bankrupt RV park last year for $1.25 million. Over the past month, at the County Commission's urging, he has set up a relocation fund for residents that's being administered by a third party, a nonprofit group called the Community Service Foundation.
The foundation is using the money to help Briarwood tenants pay for movers, rents and utility deposits as they relocate to other mobile home parks, RV parks or apartments in the area.
Residents are eligible for up to $1,375 of assistance per household if they transfer the title of their RV unit to Briarwood, or up to $1,200 of assistance if they don't own an RV or don't sign over their RV to the park.
Some residents fear that's still not enough.
"There's a chance that we may run out of money before everybody's relocated, and it's causing a little bit of panic among those that are left," said Christine Allamanno, a Gulf Coast Legal Services attorney who represents about a dozen families in the RV park.
However, county commissioners were reassured that Largo officials will remain actively involved in the relocation process.
Carol Stricklin, Largo's community development director, said that if the relocation fund were to run dry, the city could seek to tap into other sources of assistance, potentially from the Clearwater Housing Authority and the Pinellas County Housing Authority.
State law requires developers to provide financial assistance for residents who are forced to leave traditional mobile home parks. However, that law doesn't apply to Briarwood, since it is an RV park.
Largo recently annexed the Briarwood property and approved a development agreement for the apartment complex. The city is eager to see the complex built because it would be an upgrade over the RV park and would concentrate more residential units in the Largo Mall area.
Now that the county has approved the plan, Largo will hold one more public hearing on Briarwood — a second reading of an amendment to the city's future land-use plan.
"This is going to be a significant improvement in their mind to their city," said County Commissioner Charlie Justice, "and it certainly falls on their shoulders to make sure that the residents of their city are taken care of."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.