Congress Avenue extension from Northlake Boulevard will force out mobile home park residents

"Ultimately, over 22 residences."

That's how many homeowners in Hi Acres Mobile Home Park will be required to move when Congress Avenue is extended from Northlake Boulevard to Alternate A1A, according to a document approved by the Palm Beach County Commission.

Roland Fletcher is one of those residents. The 68-year-old retired kitchen cabinet maker from Michigan picks up a few bucks mowing lawns for his pals in the park. He's lived there 15 years.

"'I'm history," said Fletcher, shutting down his red mower to chat on a recent afternoon. "I have a nephew in Stuart. Maybe I'll go there."

The county commission voted April 17 to begin land acquisition. Construction is expected to start in about five years, according to county records.

The county will negotiate with Hollywood, Fla-based Hi Acres LLC, the owners of the park, to determine the value of the property. It is then between Hi Acres LLC and mobile home owners who lose their homes to distribute the money, said Palm Beach County Commissioner Karen Marcus.

"Historically, the county has always been very fair," Marcus said.

Motorists traveling north on Congress Avenue now come to a dead end after they cross Northlake Boulevard. The C-shaped extension, expected to cost about $6.5 million, will relieve traffic on Northlake Boulevard and Alternate A1A, according to county records.

About 44,000 vehicles a day drive on Northlake Boulevard between Alternate A1A and Congress Avenue, and on Alternate A1A, about 22,500 vehicles travel daily between Northlake Boulevard north to Lighthouse Drive, according to traffic records.

"Anyone who drives on those roads knows that traffic relief is badly needed," Marcus said.

Bob McCreary, 74, understands all that. But that doesn't mean the snowbird from New York has to like it. McCreary just paid $6,000 for a new Florida room on the trailer he and his wife Lois have owned for past decade.

"It stinks. I can't move my mobile home because it's too old," said McCreary, a retired silk screener.

Losing mobile homes means a reduction of an important economic niche: affordable housing. That is especially significant in Palm Beach County, where low-paying service jobs are common and housing prices are high, said Marie York, president of Jupiter-based York Solutions, a planning consulting firm.

"Improving transportation is important. But keeping affordable housing close to where people work is the biggest component," York said.

Mobile home owners in Hi Acres, built in the 1970s, pay a $290 monthly maintenance fee. Almost all are retirees.

Clothes lines are common. Grills are in the driveways. Stuck in the ground next to one front walk is a knee-high wooden bear toting a sign reading "An old bear lives here with his honey."

"Mobile home parks are a piece of Florida that is fading away," said Dana Little, urban design director for the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.

Moving mobile home park residents to make way for development is nothing new in north county.

Residents in the 150-unit Hilltop Gardens Mobile Home Park, throwing distance from Hi Acres, were evicted five years ago when a developer bought the 23 acres. The Florida Mobile Home Act required the developer to pay single-wide owners $3,000. Double-wide owners got $6,000.

While anger surfaces with many Hi Acres residents when asked about the road, Richard Smart takes a more relaxed attitude. The 75-year-old Massachusetts native has enjoyed his 18 years there. The retired trucker built a shed. The banana trees he planted grew tall.

"Hey, I've had a great time," he said sitting back in his screened porch as his African Gray parrot named Smarty squawked away. "Give me a fair price and I'm gone."

Staff Writer Joel Engelhardt contributed to this story.