Ocean Breeze Park homeowners seek bankruptcy protection for community

Article Courtesy of The TC Palm

By Cynthia Washam

Published August 25, 2012 

OCEAN BREEZE PARK Four years after buying Ocean Breeze Park, homeowners are seeking bankruptcy protection to preserve the 45-acre, riverfront, mobile-home park that's served retirees for more than seven decades.

"The board is working hard to make all of this work out," said Harry Bartlett, president of the Ocean Breeze Park Homeowners' Association. "I'm very positive things will work out in the end."

The historic park was founded in 1938 by Harry Hoke and incorporated in 1960. It stretches from the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks to the Indian River, just south of Jensen Beach Boulevard.

Hoke, wife Queena, and their heirs owned the park until 2008, when they put it up for sale. Residents united to buy the property. But poor timing and a series of bad breaks sent their co-op association into a tailspin.

From the outset, the buyers never got the numbers they'd hoped for. Although the park has more than 500 lots, only 134 homeowners participated in the purchase. Just as many residents declined to join the co-op, instead leasing their lot from the association.

"They didn't sell enough," said Boca Raton attorney Alvin Goldstein, who's representing the homeowners. "The purchase price was perhaps too high."

Many empty lots in Ocean Breeze represent potential tenants and co-owners. But the deteriorating park failed to attract many newcomers. A lingering headache for the association has been the more than 70 mobile homes abandoned after they were destroyed in the 2004 hurricanes.

Residents hit hard by the recession fell behind in rent payments. The homeowners' association has 13 eviction cases pending in court, and legal fees that are long overdue.

By August, the association's debts had reached $24.5 million and assets were just $13.47 million. The association on Aug. 3 filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Southern District in West Palm Beach.

"The goal of bankruptcy is to preserve these people's homes for them," Goldstein said. "We're hoping to meet with lenders and come to some solution.

"The nice thing about bankruptcy is the variety of options."

Hoke heirs Cathie Teal, Gary Hendry and Marcia Hendry-Coker hold the note to the property. Their attorney, Evan Klinek of Fort Lauderdale, could not be reached for comment. Other creditors include three law firms, the Internal Revenue Service, which is owed $53,542, and the Martin County Tax Collector, which is owed $250,000.

Ocean Breeze homeowners tried to escape their woes less than a year ago with a restructured loan and a fresh business plan. The new loan terms were expected to provide enough money for improvements including removing vacant homes and hiring professionals to market the property. Those projects, though, soon fell out of reach.

"There just wasn't enough money," Bartlett said.

A brief hearing is scheduled for Thursday for the judge to review the case and set dates for further court action.