Residents were given notice of the park’s closure on Sept. 14, and many allege that park managers knew of the change years ago but neglected to inform residents, including several who bought their homes within the past several years.
Many residents said managers assured them the park would not close until 2024 under a long-term lease with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which holds the land in trust for the Seminoles.
“People’s lives are being destroyed,’’ said Glenn Nitta, 63, who bought his home in 2004. “They allowed people to move in here, fix up their places or even buy new ones, and they knew all along what they were going to do.’’
Nitta said he was quoted a price of $29,000 to move his double-wide mobile home to a park in Coconut Creek.
“This is my home. I own it,’’ he said. “I’m able to move it because all my life I’ve been saving up money. I don’t know what for. I guess this is it. But I’m going to be broke after this. My life savings are gone.’’
The Seminoles have said they are closing the park to build homes for tribal members. The mobile home park takes up about 110 acres of the total 497-acre reservation.
More than 200 tribal families are on a waiting list for housing on the reservation, said tribal spokesman Gary Bitner.
Although residents believed they could live in the mobile home park until 2024, the Seminoles only committed to keeping it open until 2013.
But that commitment was never put in writing for the residents.
“They weren’t told because it wasn’t clear cut,’’ Bitner said. “It’s not a decision that was made until this year.’’
The Seminoles made the commitment to residents shortly after the tribe seized control of the property from the former management company, Hollywood Mobile Home Estates, in summer 2008.
The Seminoles forced that company off the property with no prior notice, and with a strong police presence, citing a litany of alleged lease violations that included desecration of a tribal cemetery.
But Hollywood Mobile Home Estates sued the Seminoles, and a federal judge ordered the tribe in July 2011 to return the park to the former management company. The tribe complied.
The Seminoles then negotiated to buy out Hollywood Mobile Home Estates, Bitner said, and the tribe reassumed management of the park this spring.
“Any discussion about a time frame of closing the park was pretty much speculation until the tribe did have management,’’ he said.
Residents said they don’t begrudge the Seminoles their land, but they are upset about the manner in which the tribe announced the closure and simultaneously erected padlocked fences around the park’s common areas.
Bitner said the tribe wanted to send a clear message.
“It was important to make the case that the park is indeed closing,’’ he said. “It couldn’t continue as business as usual because people need to realize that this is real. This is happening.’’
Gerald Timmons, 69, who bought a home in the park in 2004, said he gets the message.
Now he wants the park’s managers to hear his: “We’ve been cheated,’’ he said.
Timmons produced a prospectus given to him by the park’s previous managers when he moved in. The documents include a copy of the master land lease, between the Seminoles and a group of private companies, which began in March 1969 and extends through March 2024.
Based on that master land lease, Timmons said, he paid $15,000 for his mobile home, which was built in 1971. He invested another $60,000 in improvements, including a covered porch, a car port, new siding, new plywood and sheetrock floors, new windows and a remodeled kitchen and bath.
But the improvements Timmons made to his home, particularly the floors, have made it impossible to move. He said a moving company told him that his mobile home is too heavy and may break if placed on a tractor trailer and hauled away.
As a year-round resident with a fixed income of less than $40,000 a year, Timmons said he qualifies for the Seminoles’ offer of financial assistance of up to $3,000 for abandonment or moving expenses. He said he will sell what he can of his mobile home for scrap parts. But that’s hardly enough to make up for the interruption of his plans.
Timmons, who has esophageal cancer, said he created a comfortable home for the long term. Now he feels like the bottom fell out.
“We had planned on staying in it until we died,’’ he said, “and now it’s being taken from us.’’