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Largo RV park residents protest development plan

LARGO — Seven years ago, after an unexpected inheritance, Pateeka Murphy and her husband bought a single-wide mobile home in the Briarwood Travel Villa and RV Park.

The couple, who met at a Fort Lauderdale homeless shelter, painted the walls white, the trim red. They plucked ripe bananas from nearby trees.

"We moved from a van to a tent to the most beautiful home of all," said Murphy, who uses a wheelchair and lives on $750 a month. "And now, we could lose everything."

At a Largo City Commission meeting Tuesday, she asked officials to save her neighborhood. Her mobile home, she said, would be destroyed if uprooted.

Months ago, Briarwood residents learned park owner Steve McConihay wanted to develop a 260-unit market rate apartment complex on the wooded, 14-acre park located at Ulmerton Road and Seminole Boulevard.

Largo commissioners previously approved a land use change. On Tuesday they voted unanimously to approve the land development agreement between Largo and the Briarwood property owners.

Residents and their attorney, Christine Allamanno of Gulfcoast Legal Services, have threatened legal action if the plan moves forward. Dozens arrived Tuesday with neon signs reading: "Save our homes" and "Hell No We Won't Go."

Some homes could be severely damaged if moved, Allamanno explained. Some are so old, area parks won't accept them. And roughly 50 people who live on around $1,000 a month could become suddenly homeless.

"We have people who have lived in this park 15 years, on disability, on Social Security, who are veterans," she said. "If this has to happen, we'd like them to be compensated. They're going to be heartbroken, devastated."

McConihay's attorney, Jonathan Damonte, said the park's residents own their homes and should be able to move to other, perhaps cheaper neighborhoods. He has called other campgrounds and mobile home parks, he said, to find living opportunities for displaced residents.

After an hour of discussion, Commissioner Curtis Holmes asked the RV park's property manager if displaced tenants would receive moving assistance.

Yes, she replied, as long as the homes are licensed. The RV park staff would meet with each person individually to best address their needs.

The City Commission's powers are limited, Holmes explained to the packed room, when it comes to private property. This meeting, he said, was to only approve a legal development agreement.

"Personally, I appreciate you coming out and expressing your concernes," Holmes said. "I understand the plight of the homeless and that you live in extremely affordable housing."

However, he continued, it's up to Briarwood residents and the landowner to hammer out a fair deal.

Holmes summarized with an anecdote about his former rental apartment: "It never felt like home. We knew it wasn't ours and someday the day of reckoning would come."

Largo RV park residents protest development plan 05/07/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 10:31pm]
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