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HOLDOUT STILL NOT READY TO GO

After selling her property for a school expansion, a homeowner says she needs more time to move.

Karen Cousin, the sole homeowner who refused to give up her property for expansion of Tarpon Springs Elementary, has reached an agreement with the School Board to sell for $365,619.

But her fight isn't over.

Cousin now is saying that the board hasn't given her enough time to move her family - three daughters, her mother, three dogs, reptiles, snakes, lizards and a 200-gallon terrarium filled with critters - to a new house. Her deadline is July 30 and she closes on her new house today. Five days is not enough, she says.

"They want me out. One-hundred percent out," said Cousin, who works as a 911 dispatcher. "But until I get the keys to my new house, I can't do anything."

The School Board previously told Cousin they would be unable to push back the deadline. But Jim Miller, director of the real property management department for Pinellas County schools, said Monday the board was re-evaluating construction time lines and would have a definitive answer for Cousin in the next few days.

"We're looking at the construction process," he said. "Can we squeeze any time out of it?"

Cousin's battle with the School Board started more than a year ago, when it contacted her about buying her house. Plans were under way for an expanded elementary school and her property was to be used as green space.

Cousin refused to leave. She didn't want to give up her home of 20 years, and she thought the School Board wasn't offering a fair price.

While neighbor after neighbor reluctantly settled, leaving a row of vacant homes on Levis Avenue, Cousin remained.

In May, the School Board filed an eminent domain suit against her, contending that taking her property was in the greater public good.

Shortly before a property taking hearing July 2, attorneys for Cousin and the School Board reached an agreement, Miller said. Cousin would get $365,619 for her 1,614-square-foot home, slightly more than the board's most recent offer ($236,000 for the assessed value and $123,539 in incentives).

"I didn't have a choice," Cousin said of her decision to settle. "If I hadn't, I would have gone to court and probably walked out with less."

Cousin said her housing headaches haven't ended. She didn't receive the check for her money until July 16 and even though she deposited it immediately, the bank put a hold on it until two days ago.

She managed to move the closing date on her new house in Tarpon Springs from July 27 to today, but she says she still can't make a July 30 deadline.

"I have to make an appointment with the moving company, take the fence out, dig up the landscaping," she said. "Even if you get evicted, they give you more time than this."

Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

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