‘We thought this was the last stop’

Retirees at Gasparilla Mobile Estates are hanging on to hope that eviction won’t be the end of their golden years

Gasparilla Mobile Estates residents are still without water and sewer, but not because of the hurricane that blew through the park. They are without basic utilities because the park’s owner, Carol Kropp of Winter Park, will not allow them to be turned on.

Kropp sent a letter to residents in the almost 200 units that make up Gasparilla Mobile Estates approximately a week after the hurricane, advising them they had until November 7 to turn over their titles and vacate, citing an “act of God” as the reason for the park’s closure.

While most of the park’s residents realized that the letter’s intent was illegal, particularly in the state of Florida which has the most strenuous laws in the country protecting senior citizens and those living in 55+ parks, seven turned their titles in and left. As of this week, two of those residents have gotten their titles back.

Larry Clontz used to live in a smaller mobile home than he does now. He had been coming to Boca Grande for 30 years and knew it was where he wanted to retire. He and his wife moved from Ohio to the Gasparilla Mobile Estates, which was about as close as they could get without spending “Boca Grande” money for a place. The mobile home the Clontz’s live in now is a very spacious and well-appointed structure, with large picture windows that look out onto the back creek and a small stretch of the cow farm next door. They love to see the cows come down to the creek to drink. Now the creek, owned by Kropp, is full of debris that she will not clean up. The home by no means is your average “trailer,” but more of a pre-fab house. Even with only a small bit of damage from the hurricane, Larry said he doesn’t know if he should repair it or not. He does n’t know how his story will end, in the place where he thought he would live out his retirement from him.

“I thought this was the last stop,” he said.

Now he and his wife lug water from the creek to flush the commode, and use a camp shower to stay clean. They are prepared to do whatever it takes to make this nightmare situation a thing of the past, but at this time it’s hard for them to know how it’s going to go.

Sam and Fran Jones live just a few doors down from Larry, and they are in the same boat, with the exception that they are a bit older and that Sam is about to undergo aortic surgery. This is a time when he is supposed to remain stress-free, to not lift anything more than five pounds and to be living in a clean, secure environment.

That has not been easy as of late. Their home has virtually no damage other than a few minor leaks in one room and, like Larry’s place, their home is extremely well kept, large and spacious. They lived on Little Gasparilla Island for many years prior to coming to the park, and while they miss that lifestyle they love their little home very much.

“This is beautiful,” Fran said. “We’ve put everything into this place, and I’m supposed to walk away from it?”

Pieter Bezemer also lives in the park, on D row. He is not afraid at all of any repercussions from the park’s owner when it comes to the threat of being evicted. He has nothing to lose.

”We purchased our home 20 years ago, when you would likely not house a pet goat in the unit, and spent some $200,000 over the next six months turning it into the “best waterfront ‘tindominium’ this side of the Mississippi,” he said . “We have survived, and rebuilt after Charlie, after Irma and were spared during the recent tornado. We do not ever intend to leave!”

Bezemer said they have initiated setting up an entity on behalf of everyone in the park, parallel to, but separate from, the HOA.

“It would be strictly to negotiate the long contemplated ownership of the park, as in fact at all times promised by Carol Kropp’s late father, an honorable man whose word was confirmed by a handshake, you could depend on,” Pieter said. “Ownership is intended by way of co-op title with first right of share purchase to all existing unit title holders.”

But, in fact, Kropp has had several offers on the property, some from inside the park. She has turned them all down. So the park residents who remain, and those who are returning, are made to wait to see what the fate of their retirement will be. Most agree, in the fact that she will not communicate regarding her intentions, they fear the worst. Still, they refuse to give up hope.

“Right is right and shall prevail,” Pieter said.

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