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Date of Issue: April 12, 2007

Throng lines Cortez Road to protest trailer park sale

cortez park protest
About 130 people lined Cortez Road Saturday morning to protest a proposed sale of Cortez Trailer Park to a developer. Islander Photo: Paul Roat

About 130 people lined the south side of Cortez Road Saturday morning, waving placards proclaiming their love of their trailer park.

Cortez Trailer Park owner Butch Howey has apparently received an unsolicited $10.8 million offer from developer Carlos Beruff to purchase the five-acre property, including its 620 feet of waterfront on Anna Maria Sound at 12507 Cortez Road, just southeast of the Cortez Bridge.

The offer has apparently been accepted, and residents are fuming.

The property is currently zoned light-industrial, and any change of use from its current trailer park status would require a change in the Manatee County comprehensive plan - a lengthy, expensive and dubious process requiring not only county, but state approval.

Florida law states that the right of first refusal for sale of mobile home parks rests with the residents of the park. However, an apparent loophole in that law allows "unsolicited" offers to be accepted without any resident intervention.

Park residents have retained the services of an attorney, Bill Korp of Sarasota, to attempt to prove their point that they want to purchase their homes, according to Cortez Trailer Park purchase committee co-chair Doug Morgan.

"We've got to prove that it's not a garage sale where somebody wants to buy a set of golf clubs," he said.

No formal legal action has yet been taken, but is probable, he hinted.

"We have to prove we have the first right of refusal," Morgan said. "It was for sale for some time, and we offered him a contract in January 2006, which was refused. He had offered it in October 2005 for sale, and in March 2006, when most of our people were home, said not to get concerned, we'd work on it this season. Then, all of a sudden, he cut a deal, but not with us."

Morgan said he had been in contact with several financial institutions, who had said if residents start to contribute to the purchase, the funds could be found.

Park homeowner association president Bob Coulter has said he created a committee of park residents, of which two-thirds had agreed to purchase the park as a co-operative, similar to a recent action in Bradenton Beach with the Sandpiper Mobile Resort. Earnest money in the form of $50,000 was collected, Coulter said, but there had been no response from Howey on the proffer.

Howey has been non-responsive to anyone regarding the proffer by Beruff or the park residents.

"Everyone in Cortez is interested in the park," Florida Institute of Saltwater Heritage president Allen Garner has said. "There is very good support for the park in the village, and I will tell Mr. Beruff that it will be a battle to get my recommendation. It's not a battle that a reasonable person would want to take on."

The park has 79 permanent mobile homes and eight recreational vehicle sites.

Howey told The Islander in October 2005 that he arrived at the park from New Jersey at age 7 and has lived there ever since. His father, Harry Sr., had the property from arrival in 1959 until he sold it to his son in 1988. Both father and son and their families live there.

"I've worked here full time since I got out of high school," said the younger Howey at the time. "Thirty-six years. I've owned it for 18 years, and it's been a good business."

He's not sure what he will do after the park's sale, but "Manatee County is changing like crazy and it's time to move on, do something else. I've got a house in northeast Georgia that I may use more often."

He said in 2005 that he would try to keep any negotiations "as civil as I can, but you never know - in business you can go from hero to zero in 30 seconds."