by Ludmilla Lelis, Orlando Sentinel
It’s rare these days for a developer to plan a new mobile-home park, and rarer still to propose one with more than 1,500 units in an urban area.
But an Ormond Beach company wants to do just that near one of Volusia County‘s most scenic roads: the Loop, known for its canopy of massive oaks. The 1,033-acre development would border Bulow Creek State Park and sit next to $300,000 estate homes.
It’s not a new idea. It came up a decade ago but was dropped, and the developer was instead permitted to build conventional homes. But Plantation Oaks of Ormond Beach LLC never developed the land, and now, with the housing market in a prolonged slump, the company wants to revive its plans for more-affordable mobile homes.
Scores of neighbors oppose the plan, which will go before the Volusia County Council on Thursday. They argue that mobile homes don’t fit the area.
“They say they will have the newer homes that may look better than trailers, but it’s still a mobile home,” said Dick Garber, who lives in the neighboring Halifax Plantation community. “It’s not a desirable trade-off, and I don’t see the rationale for approving it other than the council members are sympathetic to the developer’s financial plight.”
Volusia County Chairman Frank Bruno said he is still weighing the change, but he favors allowing the company options.
“I think a lot of people don’t want anything to be developed there, to be honest,” Bruno said. “I think the project is getting a bad rap.”
Plantation Oaks would be one of the last major developments by the Loop, the scenic route that cuts through state parks, meanders past beaches and wetlands, and includes the towering oaks of Old Dixie Highway.
Neighboring subdivisions, such as Ormond Lakes and the Villages of Pine Run, have homes valued at $200,000 to $400,000 and are almost built out. In 2002, when plans for a mobile-home park at Plantation Oaks became public, hundreds of people opposed it. “Save the Loop” became a popular local slogan and the name of a group that filed an environmental lawsuit against it.
Ultimately, Volusia officials signed an agreement allowing 1,577 single-family homes.
“We tolerated the fact that there would be homes built there, and we settled our lawsuit based on the fact that they took mobile homes off the table,” said Rick Smith, who was part of Save the Loop.
Jim Morris, attorney for the developer, declined an interview. But during last month’s meeting of the Volusia planning commission, he said there is a demand for mobile homes, which would sell for $80,000 to $140,000. The change would make Plantation Oaks a viable development, he said.
“Denying this request denies my client the opportunity to do something positive economically,” Morris told the planning commission, which narrowly approved recommending the changes to the County Council.
As proposed, Plantation Oaks would be a community for people 55 and older with larger manufactured homes — double-wide or triple-wide — that would look like conventional homes and have patios and garages.
The proposal is unusual in Florida because the trend during the past decade has been the redevelopment of older mobile-home parks for conventional homes, said Jim Ayotte, executive director of the Florida Manufactured Housing Association.
“We’ve seen very little development of mobile-home-park communities in Florida since the 1990s,” Ayotte said. “But there is pent-up demand for mobile homes because 10,000 people in America retire each day, and these communities are a good option for them.”
Elliott Gross, a resident of the adjacent Halifax Plantation, said the Volusia comprehensive plan specifies that new mobile-home parks should be built near existing mobile-home parks. For example, Ormond Beach already has 55-and-older mobile-home communities: Aberdeen and The Falls.
Another concern is the big difference in tax base between mobile and traditional homes. Property Appraiser Morgan Gilreath estimated the manufactured homes would be assessed at $17,000 apiece for property taxes. Residents would pay decal fees at the county tag office, amounting to $740,000 in annual revenue.
However, traditional homes are worth several times that in property taxes, and Gross estimated the difference at $4.5 million a year. Existing residents would have to shoulder the additional cost of fire, law enforcement, road maintenance and other county services.
“The bottom line is that this is a bailout,” he said. “These developers made a business decision in 2002, and it turned out it wasn’t the best decision. But they should stick to it.”