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A few miles south of Palm Beach on Florida's Atlantic Coast wedged between the beach and the Intracoastal Waterway, you can still find a living time capsule of what natives call Old Florida. It's Briny Breezes, a tiny town that's also a trailer park and which is sitting on some of the most prized real estate in America.
As NPR's Greg Allen reports, after nearly 70 years of defying developers, time may be running out for Briny Breezes.
GREG ALLEN: What would you do if someone offered you a million dollars for your mobile home? Before you answer, listen to Bill Nichols.
BILL NICHOLS: This is as close as you're going to get to paradise here. You can't get any closer than that.
ALLEN: Paradise is a tiny town, just 43 acres, that consists almost entirely of mobile homes. Briny Breezes today doesn't look all that different from pictures taken shortly after the community was founded nearly 70 years ago. Old photos show a shuffleboard court--it's still here. A Quonset hut--it's now used for the hobby club--and most important, 600 feet of pristine white-sand Florida beach.
Briny Breezes' clubhouse overlooks the beach, outside on its long porch lined with rocking chairs, Nichols is one of about a dozen Brinies who's come to rock, watch the surf and talk.
NICHOLS: They start sitting here at 5:30, 6:00 in the morning. There's a group that comes up here for coffee every morning so you - where can you go when everybody goes by everybody knows everybody.
ALLEN: Besides the beach, there's a swimming pool, a knitting club, card games and friends. The town's median age is 70.3 years old. But just over a year ago, Nichols says a serpent slithered in to paradise.
NICHOLS: It all started with an envelope and a 37-cent stamp, and that started the ball rolling, and how do you stop it after it gets rolling.
ALLEN: A developer, uninvited, sent Briny Breezes residents an offer they couldn't ignore. He proposed buying the entire town for $500 million, that's more than a million dollars for each one of the 488 mobile homes that are parked here.
Residents of Briny Breezes are also shareholders and make no mistake, this is a town full of people who value what they have, and they aren't giving anything away. Rather than accept that proposal, they sent it back and opened the bidding to other potential developers.
If $500 million for 43 acres sounds steep, keep in mind that this is Palm Beach County, beachfront property just south of the most expensive real estate in the country. Twenty miles up the road, Donald Trump has a house on the market for $125 million. Given that you may wonder how Briny Breezes survived this long.
Resident Bruce Jensen, who grew up in nearby Lake Worth, thinks he may have the answer.
BRUCE JENSEN: I didn't even know this place existed.
ALLEN: Jensen's a relative newcomer. He's been here just six years. When I met him, he was filling a bucket with seawater for use in his saltwater aquarium. He loves it here but says for him and many others hurricanes were the deciding factor.
JENSEN: If a hurricane was to hit this place and wipe it out, it could not be rebuilt the way it is. So a lot of people, I think have reluctantly, very reluctantly agreed to sell. Me too. I wish that guy would have never shown up.
ALLEN: The earlier vote authorizing the board to accept other bids suggests that a majority supports a sale. But it's easy to find long-time residents like Bob Kraft(ph) who worry that even with a million dollars, they'll never be able to replace what they have here at Briny Breezes.
Kraft, a former schoolteacher, starts each and every day at the beach, where he grades the sunrise.
BOB KRAFT: This morning, I believe, was an A-minus. It was quite good - quite colorful.
ALLEN: It doesn't take long for Bob Kraft to show me around Briny Breezes. It's row upon row of wide double-wides, anchored very closed together. With Christmas approaching, there's a lot of activity in the community hall.
KRAFT: That's where all the good entertainment goes on - big time.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ALLEN: Inside the Good Music Club is rehearsing for its holiday musicale. One of the singers, Dorothy McNease(ph), was here the first year Briny Breezes opened in 1937. During a break, she explains why she's voting against the sale.
DOROTHY MCNEASE: My parents were here. They lived here, and they have now passed away, and now, my husband and I came and lived here, and now I'm living here. It's something about Briny and all the friends and all the history. It's a wonderful place to live.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)
ALLEN: Tomorrow, time may finally catch up with Briny Breezes. Residents will gather in the community hall to hear what price tag the developer's willing to put on their town, then they'll have a month to decide whether to approve the sale. The sale that would make them millionaires, which would also herald the passing of another bit of the way that Florida used to be.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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