Trailer residents may get windfall

Oceanfront Briny Breezes votes to sell to Fla. developer for $510 million

January 11, 2007|By Carol J. Williams | Carol J. Williams,Los Angeles Times

MIAMI -- It felt to some residents of Briny Breezes like the whole town won the lottery.

Most of the 488 shareholders in the oceanfront trailer park will become millionaires as a result of yesterday's vote to sell the community of aging aluminum single-wides to a Palm Beach developer for $510 million.

But the owners' decision - seen as capitulation to the condo encroachment that has consumed most of the rest of the sun-splashed South Florida coast - was met with as many tears and jeers as jubilation.

For the outvoted minority, which included third-generation resident Barbara Kozan, the decision to sell marked the passing of an era when the working class could afford to live on the water.

"Money doesn't buy happiness," said a tearful Kozan after more than 80 percent of the shares were voted in favor of the sale to Boca Raton-based Ocean Land Investments. "My kids will never get to be here like I was."

For most, though, the sale could provide a liberating windfall.

"My position is that I'm 57 years old and I'm not retired. Now I can be," said Joe Masterson, who bought his trailer for $85,000 five years ago and will get more than $800,000 under the distribution formula agreed to by the sellers. "I'll probably buy a sailboat and live on that."

Masterson, a widowed marine archaeologist with a son in college, said the decision to sell was in part recognition of a reality that those on modest or fixed incomes can't afford to live on the beach.

"Those days are gone," he said, noting that taxes and insurance have been spiraling out of the reach of Briny Breezes residents in recent years. Meanwhile, developers offered more and more to get the community to sell.

Homeowners association president Mary Kimber said the majority had spoken with the overwhelming vote that drew a 97 percent turnout. She appealed to fellow "Brinyites" to come together in celebration after the bruising ideological battle that divided owners into opposing camps for and against leaving their idyllic location.

Briny Breezes residents united a half-century ago and bought their community from "tin-can tourists" who had parked mobile homes on the coastal breakwater during seasonal visits from harsher northern climes, many carving out a boat slip in the canals that traverse the rows of trailers.

In 1963, the owners incorporated as a town within Palm Beach County, and the densely populated park that fills 43 acres between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway had been wooed by developers ever since.

Ocean Land plans a high-rise condominium, luxury hotel and marina, but must first gain approval of state and local officials on the project at a time when hurricanes, soaring insurance rates and mounting demands on water, sanitation and parking have planning commissions looking askance at new development.

The earliest closing date proposed by the developers, March 2009, is also the earliest that the sellers will see their windfall, leading some to speculate that the deal could be undone by shifting markets and waning enthusiasm for coastal building.

Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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