Briny Breezes trailer park offered $500m to blow away

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The Independent US

A year or two from now, the Florida municipality of Briny Breezes, some 15 miles south of opulent Palm Beach, could be erased from the face of the earth.

If so, however, it will perish with the distinction of having been surely the priciest trailer park community in human history.

In a mooted deal that encapsulates the realities of eternally booming southern Florida, an unknown buyer - almost certainly a property developer - is offering $500m (£287m) for the town. The sum is equivalent to slightly more than $1m for each of the 488 mobile homes that make up Briny Breezes. News of the proposal first broke in mid-November and has thrown Briny and its mostly retiree residents into turmoil.

Some want to preserve their tiny slice of the sunbelt, no matter what. A majority seems ready to consider cashing in on the windfall. The community is run by a corporation in which all residents have a stake.

Early this month, it voted by a 73 per cent majority to invest $30,000 to hire lawyers to explore the deal further. Even more telling are trends in the local real estate market. Back in November a dozen of the narrow, closely packed trailer homes were for sale. Now every single one has been taken off the market.

Briny Breezes is a throwback to a vanished era when pineapples grew and cows grazed in fields bordering the Atlantic, and seafront living in southern Florida was within the reach of almost every pocket.

The land on which the town stands, roughly a quarter mile square, once belonged to a local farmer who as early as the 1930s allowed "tin-can tourists" to park on his land. Over the years the settlement became permanent. By 1958 the residents had bought the land, and five years later had themselves registered as a township within Palm Beach County, with special statutes to prevent a single person buying up individual lots and then selling out to a developer.

Southern Florida is a migratory place, but Briny Breezes has put down deep roots. Some who live there now are third generation residents. It has a library, a post office, a communal swimming pool, as well as a myriad clubs and associations. Along its narrow sun-drenched streets, golf carts are a favoured mode of transport.

The town has its own 200 yards of Atlantic beach as well as 400 yards of frontage along the IntraCoastal waterway that separates this strip of coastal Florida from the mainland proper. Earlier this year, it even featured in a movie, as the location for In Her Shoes, starring Cameron Diaz.

But along the packed Gold Coast that stretches 100 miles north from Miami, the place is a low-rise anomaly among glittering new apartment blocks and the mansions of the rich. In the past two years, homes in Briny Breezes have sold for as little as $35,000. Even the most expensive, at $290,000 is a veritable snip compared to the million-dollar condos nearby.

Small wonder then that Briny Breezes has long been a tempting target for developers aiming to replace the trailers with more high rises. Until now residents have blocked every such bid. But this latest blanket offer - dubbed by headline writers "Half a Billion for Briny" - may be too much to resist.

"Its like winning the lottery," George Umbrianna, 73, told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel newspaper. "We can help our grandchildren and we won't have to work any more."

Any sale will be a slow process, given the sensitivities involved. Mother Nature, however, has made one more likely. Trailer parks are notoriously vulnerable to hurricanes and tornadoes, and last October's Hurricane Wilma inflicted almost $3m of damage.

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