Howard County zoning bill may threaten trailer parks Council members may try to alter plan, protect mobile home residents

February 27, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Council is considering a bill that -- in theory at least -- could bring the death of trailer parks in the eastern end of this affluent county.

The bill would allow construction of traditional homes in areas now reserved for mobile and manufactured housing. The change takes up one line of a 94-page, highly technical bill changing zoning regulations.

But Councilman C. Vernon Gray feared the impact the measure would have on those living in mobile and premanufactured homes. "The people who live in these parks have no protection," he said at last night's council meeting. "I could see, eventually, these people being forced out."

Most of the bill's changes are considered minor -- and in fact have been endorsed by pro-development and slow-growth groups.

But the mobile home section is shaping up as a debate. Mr. Gray and his only Democratic colleague on the five-member council, Mary C. Lorsung, indicated last night that they may try to alter the bill when it comes up for a vote Monday night.

"I just have a whole lot of questions," Ms. Lorsung said.

For many residents in Howard County -- where last year the average house sale was $204,828 -- the first question may be: Where are the trailer parks, or as the industry prefers to call them, mobile home parks?

All of them, about 10, are along U.S. 1 and off Interstate 95. Many are next to industrial sections on roads heavily traveled by trucks -- locations that ensure their survival, say proponents of the zoning law change.

Developers simply will find it too expensive to kick everyone out, remove the existing streets, pave new ones and build new houses -- all for the chance to try to close deals near a truck stop.

"It certainly seems like a monumental task," said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

Proponents say the bill was written for new or not-fully-developed mobile home parks, where park owners could offer traditional homes.

These homes now are less expensive to build than trucking a prebuilt or "manufactured" home to a site, said Steven Breeden, president of the Howard County chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. "I think it will keep house prices more reasonable," he said.

Council Chairman Darrel E. Drown agrees. He sees the bill as giving more flexibility to park owners. During last night's meeting, he told Ms. Lorsung he did not support her effort to consider the mobile home issue separate from the 94-page bill.

But there is concern about the existing mobile home parks in a county in which much of the blue-collar labor force cannot afford to live in traditional housing.

Mr. Gray said he may introduce an amendment Monday to protect those areas. "I would consider something like this [bill] for undeveloped parcels," he said.

Some of the mobile home parks are near traditional home subdivisions. And not everyone is willing to count out even the most industrial sections of U.S. 1 for new development in this growing county.

"I have to tell you, I'm always surprised where people put houses," said Roger B. Davis, vice president and chief financial officer of Lovell America Inc., a Columbia real estate developer.

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