LARGO — Dozens of residents of the Briarwood Travel Villa and RV Park plan to stand in front of Largo City Hall today to protest a developer's proposal to build an apartment complex on the woodsy property they call home.
Landlord Steve McConihay, wants to turn Briarwood, a 138-space RV park near Largo Mall, into a 260-unit apartment complex.
If he gets his way, park residents — many elderly, disabled and living on less than $1,000 a month — will be displaced, said Christine Allamanno, an affordable project staff attorney for Gulfcoast Legal Services.
"Our fear is that if the project moves forward as it is planned, we will have low-income, disabled people who will become homeless,'' she said.
Tonight, the Largo City Commission is scheduled to discuss a development agreement for McConihay's project — one step of several required before he can break ground. But if the City Commission approves the agreement, Gulfcoast will take legal action, said Allamanno.
"Briarwood is these residents' permanent home, and most of their homes, trailers, campers, RVs are over 10 years old. No other park will take them,'' she said. "When you are displacing people like this, it's traditional ... to give a portion of apartments to the people or maybe give them a rental subsidy for a finite period of time so they can stabilize. And so far, this is not being done.''
Attorney Jonathan Damonte, representing McConihay, disagreed.
"Everyone in Briarwood has a month-to-month lease, and they own their homes, whether it's a trailer or RV, so none of them are homeless,'' he said. "And we are calling other parks and campgrounds and finding other places willing to take them in. We will also hire a mover to help them get out.''
Today's appearance by residents at City Hall will not be the first time community members have spoken out against the planned apartments.
After the City Commission approved the land use change for the project in November, neighborhoods surrounding Briarwood protested that the project and resulting traffic would destroy the wetlands and wildlife on the 14-acre RV park property and that the apartment buildings would hinder their views. The City Commission decided to add a development agreement to the steps McConihay would have to take to get started.
Last week, Allamanno invited city commissioners to tour Briarwood. "We first are concerned about the residents losing their homes, but there are environmental concerns about this too,'' Allamanno said. "There's a lot of wildlife out here. Briarwood is Pinellas County's best kept secret, and I don't think a lot of people know it.''
Only one commissioner, Jamie Robinson, accepted the invitation. Robinson said he didn't know about all the open space inside Briarwood until his visit.
Will he support the new project?
"I haven't made my decision yet. I have a lot of questions for the meeting while we discuss the development agreement,'' he said. "My first one, of course, is what's going to happen to the residents.
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163.