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Parks to hear mobile home plan

The city inched forward with plans to encourage redevelopment of certain mobile home parks Tuesday, including stronger protections for owners who might be displaced if those plans succeed.

The commission told the city staff to visit residents of all the mobile home parks in the redevelopment districts on Clearwater-Largo Road and on West Bay Drive. Then the Mobile Home Preservation Policy will come back for more discussion at a May 13 commission work session.

The policy targets five mobile home parks where the city hopes to lure developers to build apartments or condominiums. It includes protections for mobile home owners who could eventually be displaced if those parks are sold. And it provides for loans to help maintain parks nice enough to avoid the redevelopment radar.

When or if any mobile home parks are sold is up to the park owners, not the city. Any park owner could sell his or her park any time and force out the residents.

"Our intention was never, ever to purchase a park, never to displace anybody," said city planner Rich Cannone. But the fact that some residents will eventually have to move "is pretty much right on the mark."

Displacement of mobile home owners has become a key discussion point in the city's broader ambition to redevelop areas of Clearwater-Largo Road and West Bay Drive. The city's mobile home park policy provides more protection than state law alone, but it also increases the likelihood that the parks will eventually be sold.

"The question is, are they better off with the legislation or without it?" Mayor Bob Jackson said Tuesday afternoon. "I think they're better off with it."

The policy includes:

Targeting Keystone, Belleair Village, Rainbow Court, Skyview and Shady Dell for redevelopment by changing their land use designation. The plan would increase the density allowed from 7.5 to 24 units per acre, making the land suitable for condominiums or apartments.

That sounds like a big increase, but the parks are already defying the rules at an average of about 21 units per acre. Rainbow Court has 16 units per acre. Skyview has 31. The city singled out these parks because they are run down and mostly renter-occupied. But they also contain newer, well-maintained, owner-occupied units.

Preserving five other parks in the redevelopment districts _ Lake Placid, Louis Palms, Whispering Pines, Kakusha and Blue Skies _ by leaving their land use and density unchanged.

Designing an incentive-based relocation plan for displaced mobile home owners. If a developer takes advantage of redevelopment incentives such as density changes and fee waivers, it would have to pay replacement value for mobile homes that can't be moved. Renters would receive no compensation.

Dropping a proposal to give residents one year to relocate if their park is sold. Instead, residents will have six months, as required by state law. Some commissioners don't think six months is enough. Jackson wants a six-month minimum, with flexibility depending on how long residents have owned their units.

Implementing the county's Park Saver program, which helps mobile home owners form an association to purchase their park land.

Providing low-interest loans for home improvements to keep non-targeted parks from deteriorating.

Issuing a "notice of displacement due to governmental action" for unit owners and perhaps for renters. This is a notice required by state law which could help them get preference for housing assistance.

Residents of Belleair Village, most of whom own their units, asked the city not to group them with the more dilapidated renter-occupied parks on the target list. Commissioners said being on the list provides them more protections than they would otherwise have. And if the park owner doesn't want to sell, and he says he doesn't, no one can make him.

"It's a shame many residents have been put into a situation of being scared to death for the past several months," Commissioner Charlie Harper said. He remembers spending the night with his grandparents at Skyview park when it he was a boy and it was a nice park.

"You all are valuable residents just like my grandparents," he said. "We respect you and that's why we're going to be passing these ordinances."

Jayne Morris, a six-year resident of Belleair Village, works in her kitchen. "The city can do what it wants, but hopefully they will consider the fact that this is our home and we love it," she said about the Largo proposal to make some mobile home parks more attractive to developers.