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Al Norman

Al Norman

Posted: November 11, 2009 01:02 PM

Wal-Mart Walking on Sunshine

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As many as 70 elderly and disabled residents of Palm Springs, Florida, may soon be evicted to make way for another Wal-Mart superstore.

The hapless residents of Sunshine Village are watching as the sun goes down on their mobile home park. This homestead of predominately low-income older people has been around for decades on 10th Avenue North. But this week, the Palm Springs Land Development Board voted unanimously to rezone 17 acres of land from residential to commercial, to pave the way for the 11th Wal-Mart within ten miles of Palm Springs.

A developer called Cornerstone Palm Springs LLC, which owns Sunshine Village, warned residents about a year ago that the property was up for sale. The site is reportedly slated for a 175,000 square foot Wal-Mart supercenter. There's already a Wal-Mart supercenter only 4 miles away in West Palm Beach, and two more supercenters roughly 7 miles from the site.

The developer can't just toss these old folks out on the street, however. Florida law requires that the residents of Sunshine Village receive at least six months notice of eviction, and be given some relocation costs. Cornerstone Palm Springs told the Palm Beach Post that it's going to cover all the relocation costs for the families being evicted.

But the Sunshine Village Neighborhood Association is not going to sink slowly in the west. The group has approached the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach for help, and an attorney for the Society told the Post, "We don't think it will be possible to move them. There's not a lot of places for these folks to rent."

Cornerstone apparently has informed the mobile home owners that Wal-Mart wants to move in when they move out. In fact, the developer will have a site plan ready to submit in December. The Village Council voted last winter to amend its comprehensive land use plan to accommodate a shopping center---so the project has been in the works for almost a year. Within months, Wal-Mart could literally be walking on Sunshine.

Wal-Mart targets mobile home parks, because local officials are often anxious to level these 'eyesores', and move the residents out of the area. The homeowners, who are stigmatized as "trailer trash," are marginalized politically, and have no clout in town. One reader of the Palm Beach Post submitted the following comment on Sunshine Village:

We need to get rid of all these low rent trailer parks. They bring in the worst kind of people. A lot of illegals will be living in these rusted out old trailer parks. Palm Beach county should take a vote on closing all trailer parks...Keep the migrants where they belong. Out in the fields picking my tomatoes.

Last August, Wal-Mart displaced 40 families from a mobile home park in Marion, North Carolina. In February of 2009, 15 homeowners lost out to a Wal-Mart supercenter in North Vernon, Indiana. Around Christmas of 2006, 80 residents in a mobile home park in Berlin, Wisconsin saw their homes rezoned from residential to commercial. In January of 2006, 54 families in the Monticello Mobile Home Park in West Asheville, North Carolina, were forced to relocate to make room for a 180,000 square foot Wal-Mart superstore. In 2003, 122 residents in a mobile home park in St. Petersburg, Florida were displaced by Wal-Mart. The world's largest retailer swallows up trailer parks whole, and spits out the people who live there.

Not all of these attempts by big box stores to push mobile homeowners off the map have been successful. Residents in Santa Rosa, California, and Hood River, Oregon, for example, beat the big boxes and kept their homes. But more often than not, mobile home property owners like Cornerstone sell out the families that have depended on them for decades. It's hard for landowners to resist the lure of Wal-Mart's top dollar. The owners of Sunshine Village will surely "live better" when Wal-Mart pays them millions for their little corner of this village.

The village of Palm Springs, population around 14,000, only covers a two and a half square mile area. It won't be easy for these elderly and disabled residents to move their mobile homes. Many of the homes might not structurally survive any relocation at all.

The Village Council in Palm Springs will take its first vote on rezoning on November 13th. If they vote down the rezoning, the elderly and disabled residents of Sunshine Village won't have to move.

Ironically, Palm Springs likes to call itself "A Great Place to Call Home." Readers are urged to email Karl Umberger, the Palm Springs Village Manager at kumberger@villageofpalmsprings.org with the following message:

Please let the Village Council know that I am appalled that any community would toss out dozens of elderly and disabled residents from their homes just to make way for another Wal-Mart like the 11 you already have within 10 miles of your Village. How can the Village---which says it's 'A Great Place To Call Home'---evict these low-income people to make way for a Wal-Mart? Where are these folks supposed to live? Urge the Council to 'Save Sunshine Village,' and tell Wal-Mart to find land that isn't already somebody else's home.