December 30, 2003
Park residents evicted
MANATEE - Dozens of residents in a run-down trailer park were issued formal notices
Monday from Manatee County government ordering them to demolish their homes or
make costly repairs within 30 days.
The action is tantamount to a mass eviction of all residents at the Trail Motel and Mobile Home Park,
3503 14th St. W., which has a history of unsafe structure citations, code violations and
repeated complaints of criminal activity.
County Building Official George Devenport issued 81 unsafe structure notices, including 37
demolition orders with instructions for people to vacate their homes immediately and 44 repair
orders that offered demolition as an alternative.
Devenport said he suspected none of the 44 home owners will choose repairs because
those would cost more than each home's value, thereby effectively forcing those owners
to also leave and demolish their homes. Every home is at least 23 years old, most are at
least 30 years old and the oldest is 52 years old, he said.
Sheriff's deputies hand-delivered notices with 10 demolition orders and 23 repair orders
while circulating through the park for about 90 minutes Monday morning. Other notices
were not delivered because homes were vacant, nobody answered the door or homes
no longer were located on listed lots.
Resident Aurora Antunez, widowed just before Christmas, thought things couldn't get worse
until Monday, when they did.
"They came here and scared us and pressured us," Antunez, 47, said while sitting outside her
trailer with 2-year-old granddaughter Chelsea balanced on her knee. "No one here has
anywhere to go and nothing more to give."
"The truth is I don't even know what to do," Antunez said in Spanish. "I don't have anywhere
to go or anyone to go with."
Notices delivered Monday were follow-ups to warning placards posted on homes by
Devenport's staff in August. Residents had known formal notices were coming sometime
soon and that they must eventually leave the park, which is in the process of being sold.
Devenport said he was not aware of any mobile home owner applying for a building permit
to make repairs since warning placards were posted four months ago.
David Madrid, who lives at the park and owns five trailers there, said the deputies' approach
was quite a shock.
"They threatened to turn people over to immigration," Madrid said in Spanish.
"They were telling people they had to go now, this very moment."
Sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow said he did not know whether deputies made threats,
but he said the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has not been
contacted by the sheriff's office about illegal immigrants living at the Trail park.
Notices with demolition orders state "premises shall be vacated immediately," but
Devenport said the notice is misleading because residents may stay for 30 days,
which is the time period for any appeal of Devenport's orders to be filed.
"After 30 days, if they are still there, I'm sure we will consult with the County Attorney's
Office about the next step," Devenport said. "Usually after 30 days, nobody is there
and we get bids for demolition."
The trailer park is owned and operated by a trust controlled by James Maglione of Sarasota. County
commissioners last year filed a lawsuit declaring the park a public nuisance. The court case
is alive, and legal wrangling continues.
An investment group led by Joel McNair signed a contract in October to buy the park. McNair
said his group wants to rebuild the park from scratch, including new homes, roads,
utilities and other amenities.
Rachel Micah-Jones, staff attorney of Florida Rural Legal Services in Fort Myers, said
her office received telephone calls Monday from frantic Trail residents who felt harassed
and intimidated by deputies. Lawyers will meet with the residents today to assure
them their homes won't be demolished overnight.
"We want to calm people down," she said.
Micah-Jones said lawyers from three organizations are gathering information from
residents and other sources that could lead to lawsuits against county government,
Maglione and the trust, and McNair's group of investors.
Madrid said he is prepared to take the matter to court if he does not receive a fair price of
$3,000 apiece for his five trailers.
"The county says it will help us; the new owner says something else," said Madrid, who
moved here from Mexico nine years ago. "Who are we supposed to believe? It's absurd."
Here is the breakdown of unsafe structure notices issued Monday by Building Official George Devenport
of the Manatee County Building Department.