AFFORDABLE HOUSING - SEABREEZE TRAILER PARK CASE STUDY
Sea Breeze Mobile Home Park
Along the ocean at 87425 Old Highway on Plantation Key, there was once a mobile home community that had about 75 homes. A majority were small mobile homes occupied by local residents… many of the folks worked in our community.
Sea Breeze had a very close knit group of neighbors. Patty, for example, lived there for four years and said those were probably the happiest years of her life. The entire community was like one big happy family. There was always an evening gathering of friends at Sea Breeze with neighbors getting together for cookouts, laughter and good times, evening after evening.
New Corporate Owner
On June 30, 2015, the property was sold for $11 million to Sun Communities, a huge publicly-traded real estate investment trust that invests in manufactured housing and recreational vehicle communities. Five years earlier, Sun Communities had purchased the nearby San Pedro Mobile Home Park for $3,850,000. In January of 2018, the company acquired the home in between the two mobile home parks for $2.3 million, a total investment of over $17 million. Was the handwriting on the wall? Some improvements were made – and a new sign went up: “Remodeled Homes for Sale; New Management.”
Beginning nine months after acquiring Sea Breeze, the new owners initiated action to evict tenants. Sxiteen tenants faced legal action according to the Monroe County Public Records.
Illegal Vacation Rentals
And while Sun Communities was filing eviction notices, Islamorada was filing code citations against the new owners. From August of 2015 until September of 2017, the Village of Islamorada cited Sun Communities 22 times for illegal vacation rentals.
Hurricane Irma – Total Destruction
And then on September 11, 2017, Sea Breeze was demolished by Hurricane Irma and all the tenants were left without homes.
Soon a fence was put up and a guard was hired to keep out strangers as well as tenants who just wanted to reclaim personal belongings from their homes and treasures from their pre-storm life. The guard’s vehicle can still be seen at the fenced vacant property more than three years later.
See the Sept. 21, 2017 Miami Herald story about Sea Breeze saga here.
The New Trend
Over the last 20 years, one mobile home park after another gets sold, ending the marvelous community spirit enjoyed by important members of our workforce. To many of us, when we think of what has been special about an old neighborhood we loved, we consider the comforts that we took for granted: borrowing a cup of sugar or a hedge trimmer, planning a potluck. At Sea Breeze, the residents lost their community and their close-knit family. To many at Sea Breeze and the other mobile home parks that have been redeveloped, there is no other place to go… and so they leave Islamorada and the life they considered the best in memory.
Past History of Sea Breeze
In 2007, an injunction was filed by the Health Department. At least 45 existing sites on the property were declared a sanitary nuisance and a threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the occupants at Sea Breeze. To come into compliance, the Health department required Sea Breeze to revise its site plan.
Sea Breeze is licensed by the Health Department for 35 mobile homes and 66 RV spaces -- RV spaces being transient uses, not permanent homes. Sea Breeze rarely had any transient uses over the last 20 years or more, but the owner insisted he was entitled to what was licensed even if the license was no indication of the property’s use for decades.
In an effort to protect existing affordable housing, the Village was in the process of updating the Land Development Regulations that would impact redevelopment of mobile home parks. The planning staff would not accept the site plan application. The Village was taken to court and lost.
On April 14, 2011, while Ed Koconis was the Director of Planning, site plan SP-04-11 was approved with an expiration date three years later, April 2014. The new site plan brought Sea Breeze mobile home park into compliance eliminating many of the prior concerns as to density, setbacks, buffering, landscaping. However, the plan did nothing to protect long-term affordable housing. The site plan provided for 55 RV spaces each with its own chiki hut and 200-square-foot patio. But, no long-term housing.
Prior to the sale of the mobile home park in 2015, the former owner received confirmation from the Village that the 2011 site plan had expired.
Major Discrepancies Interpreting The Code And Site Plan Approvals
And now Ed Koconis is gone. Enter Ty Harris, the current planning director. The Development Review Committee has been eliminated so now site plans can be approved solely by the Director of Planning with no oversight from any other committee, department, or Village Council. The public rarely ever knows a site plan application has been submitted.
A new site plan approval for Sea Breeze was recorded January 28, 2019, signed by Ty Harris. The new site plan allows for 66 transient RV spaces, plus 35 elevated non-transient mobile homes with 10 feet in between the units; no setbacks shown from the water, no landscaping or buffers provided, no space for chiki huts, patios or extra vehicles, with almost double the number of units approved by Ed Koconis eight years earlier.
It is interesting that the size of the site changed as well since 2011 when Ed Koconis was here. The total site size including submerged land was listed as 7.5 acres in 2011 and in 2019 it is 7.71 acres.
Equally mysterious, density in the 2011 site plan is 11.1 units/acre of upland. In the 2019 site plan, the density is 16.8 units/acre of upland.
With minimal open space in the 2019 site plan, will there be multitudes of boat trailers and spare vehicles parked on the Old Highway right-of-way and multi-use path?
Will the increase in units impact our Key Largo wastewater treatment capacity limits?
How will 101 dwellings at this location impact our traffic congestion?
What about Sewer Assessments?
Records show when the Village first calculated central sewer cost distribution, Sea Breeze was allocated 51 Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDUs). But, when first assessed for the central sewers in 2012, their tax assessment indicates they paid for 22 EDUs. And, then in 2015 their annual assessments were reduced to 18 EDUs. If the property is redeveloped according to the current site plan, will Sun Communities be charged with the wastewater cost for the additional 80 EDUs?
Have the Developers Won Again?