VERO BEACH, Fla. — Dozens of families in a mobile home community in Vero Beach could be forced to move out starting as soon as January.
The Citrus Park Village has been located on airport property for more than 60 years, according to Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls.
But the FAA told city leaders that if the mobile homes remain on the property, the city could lose critical funding for the airport.
It has left residents like Bianca Pizano wondering why this is now an issue after the mobile home community has been on airport property for so many years.
WPTV has reached out to the FAA for comment.
"This is home…the neighbors, we're all very close," Pizano said.
The city said there are approximately 70 units in the community.
Being told to move couldn't come at a worse time for Pizano.
"I just don't have the finances for that," Pizano said.
Last summer, the FAA sent a letter to the Vero Beach Regional Airport's director saying the following:
"It has come to the FAA's attention that the City of Vero Beach may have entered into an agreement that has allowed non-aeronautical residential use of the Vero Beach Regional Airport property. Specifically, there is apparently a mobile home park on airport property currently being used for long-term residential purposes. This raises airport compliance questions for the FAA Southern Region Airports Division, since long-term residential use of airport property is incompatible with airport operations."
The airport, according to the FAA, has received more than $32 million in FAA funding since 1983.
According to Falls, they risk losing funding in the future if the mobile homes remain on the site.
"We're sympathetic. We tried to keep the use there," Falls said.
Falls said the city responded to the FAA, explaining the history of the site. The airport was used as a Naval base during World War II up until the end of the war.
"In 1947, [the federal government] transferred the land to us so long as we used it as a public airport," Falls said.
There were mobile homes on the property as far back as the 1940s, according to Falls. The Citrus Park Village has been on the site since the 1960s, he said.
Falls said the city requested that the FAA approve long-term residential use for Citrus Park, but that request was denied.
"Every four to five years, we do a master layout plan. We submit to the FAA, they approve. This use has shown up on this plan since 1976 without issue. We've never had any complaints," Falls said, also making him wonder why the FAA now takes issue with the community.
The FAA required the city to submit a "corrective action plan" to remove the mobile homes.
"It makes us be the bad guy," Falls said.
Falls said the city submitted the plan this week, which proposes residents begin moving out in January 2023 through December 2023. In 2024, the removal of mobile homes and demolition would take place.
Falls is still hoping the plan will not have to be implemented, reaching out to U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., to see if they can intervene.
Resident James Hochhalter lives in the community seasonally.
"A few of us won't be homeless. Not many of us," he said.
Being kicked out, however, would end generations of ties to the community. His parents moved there in the 1970s.
"Our hopes would be they leave things as it’s always been," Hochhalter said.
"I would say hang in there with us, we're doing what we can to see if we can’t find a resolution … that keeps them in their homes,” Falls said.