LARGO — Roland Riggle leans on his cane as he limps around the Briarwood Travel Villa and RV Park, his home for the last 10 years. Like many of the park's dwindling number of residents, he survives on a monthly disability check.
He shares a 30-year-old trailer with his girlfriend and her daughter. They're worried their home will fall apart if they try to move it to a new location.
"I'd already be out of here if I could afford it," Riggle said, "but $710 a month doesn't go far."
Concern about the fate of Riggle and about 50 of his neighbors has led Pinellas County to hit the "pause" button on a developer's plan to replace the 138-space RV park with a 260-unit apartment complex.
Developer Steve McConihay bought the bankrupt RV park near Largo Mall last year for $1.25 million. His representatives say he's going out of his way to help Briarwood residents move to other mobile home parks and RV parks in the area.
But county commissioners fear that many of the park's low-income residents could end up homeless because they can't afford movers, higher rents or utility deposits.
"This economy is not the time to be putting people out on the street," said Commissioner John Morroni. "We just don't want to contribute to one more homeless person in the county."
Last week, county commissioners were asked to rezone the tree-shaded RV park, located behind Sonny's BBQ near the northwest corner of Ulmerton Road and Seminole Boulevard.
Instead, they delayed voting on the zoning change because they want to make sure residents get help relocating. Commissioners will revisit the issue on Aug. 6.
State law forces developers to provide financial assistance for residents who are forced to leave traditional mobile home parks. But that law doesn't apply to Briarwood. Legally, it's classified as an RV campground that caters to travelers and winter residents, even though a number have lived there year-round for many years.
Property manager Tina Harper said the RV park has been working to get residents moved to nearby parks with similar or lower rents. To help make that happen, the park has waived the final month of rent for some residents, and it has towed trailers to other parks for free.
"We have already gone above and beyond the call of duty," said Ed Armstrong, a lawyer representing the developer. "He has no legal obligation. But strictly from a humanitarian standpoint, he has gone to extreme efforts to help the campers within the campsite to relocate."
Still, County Commissioner Karen Seel pointed out that if Briarwood were a traditional mobile home park, the developer would be required to pay $3,000 for each single-wide trailer and $6,000 for each double-wide trailer that got displaced.
"What's the right thing to do here? It's just coincidental that this is an RV park versus a mobile home park. It's the same set of people that are being impacted," Seel said. "The developer could make a tax-deductible donation to the county and the city, and we can help out these folks."
So that's what the developer is now offering to do — establish a relocation fund to be administered by the county.
The city of Largo recently annexed the RV park and approved a development agreement for the apartment complex. Largo 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.
Largo city commissioners approved the plan after telling the developer and city staffers to do everything they could to help the RV park's residents relocate. Largo staffers recently held a meeting with Briarwood residents to spell out their options.
"We're not just going to say, 'Here's your eviction notice,' " Largo Commissioner Harriet Crozier told county officials last week. "We are working very hard on this.'"
But county commissioners said that such assurances weren't spelled out in Largo's development agreement that lays out requirements for the developer.
"Legally, where are the teeth to make sure that happens?" asked County Commission chairman Ken Welch. "Trust but verify. I think that's what you're hearing from the commission."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.