Trailer parks may be fading Recent Howard law means tracts could be developed instead

March 30, 1997|By Edward LeeSUN STAFF

In Howard County -- one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the nation, boasting some of the more colossal mansions in Maryland -- owners and managers of trailer parks say they feel right at home.

Unruffled by the intimidating spread of upscale subdivisions and a new law that -- in theory, at least -- could eliminate mobile home parks in this affluent county, park owners and managers say their communities are here to stay.

"It's the only affordable housing there is around," said Shirley Pfister, who with her husband, Paul, owns Pfister Mobile Home Park off U.S. 1 in North Laurel. "Howard County needs us."

Most of the mobile home parks in the county are in the North Laurel area, though some are farther north, in Elkridge. All of them -- about 10 -- are along U.S. 1 and off Interstate 95, their 1,700 residents living next to industrial sections of roads heavily traveled by trucks.

County officials agree that they have their place even in upscale Howard.

"I certainly think that there are parks that are well-maintained and that are attractive, and the people who live in them keep them looking attractive and make good neighbors," said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Zoning. "I think they work well in this county."

Despite such positive official statements, a few park owners and managers acknowledge that they are concerned about the future of the county's mobile homes.

The County Council passed a bill last year that permitted developers to build subdivisions on land originally zoned for mobile home parks.

Taking advantage of the law, at least one development -- a 416-prefabricated-home community on 50 acres off U.S. 1 on Port Capital Drive -- is under construction on land originally zoned for a trailer park.

Ken Campbell, president of the Howard County Mobile Homeowners Association, said he can envision some of the older parks selling out to developers of upscale communities.

"Whatever is more profitable for them, it's possible," Campbell said. "It could very well happen."

The recent zoning law isn't the first time that mobile home parks have been threatened in Howard. Paul Pfister said he can recall when the County Council wanted to ban mobile home parks from the county -- in 1948.

"They didn't want mobile homes," Pfister said. "Thought they weren't good enough."

But mobile home parks survived that assault and most of the people who run them seem to think they will be part of the county's landscape for some time to come.

"It gives people an opportunity to raise their families in a nice home without being strapped forever," said Mary Jane Kramer, office manager and a resident of Aladdin Village in Jessup. "I think mobile homes are becoming more popular all the time."

Many of what people used to call trailer parks started out as campsites for travelers along U.S. 1 during the early part of the century, said William F. O'Brien, chief of comprehensive planning and zoning for the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

"It was the major corridor through the county, and that's where most of the development was at that point," O'Brien said.

When the county code was adopted in 1948, the campsites were grandfathered in as mobile home parks, O'Brien said.

Affordability is a major selling point for mobile homes, which range from $30,000 to $60,000. Top-end models resemble rancher-style homes.

Trailer parks charge residents between $200 and $500 a month per lot -- which usually includes utilities.

The idea of paying high rent for a luxury apartment or townhouse spurred Judy Mitchell and her family to move into Capitol Mobile Home Park in Elkridge.

"With us moving down here from Pennsylvania and me not finding a job right away, [living in an upscale apartment] is just not feasible," Mitchell said. "It's just cheaper."

Burl Binkley, manager of Beech Crest Mobile Home Estates in North Laurel, said expenses such as land purchase, development fees and traffic studies have discouraged some developers from building mobile home parks.

"When you get through all that, it takes a lot of time to recover" through rental fees, Binkley said. "I believe that there will be no more mobile home parks developed because the overhead is so prohibitive."

Matter of perception

For some neighbors who see mobile home parks as a scar on the landscape, that's fine.

Julie Webb doesn't want to live across from Ev Mar Mobile Home Park. The North Laurel woman ordered Ryan Homes to plant more trees between the trailer park and her $130,000 townhouse in Bowling Brook Farms.

In summer, the trees provide a buffer, but when cold weather takes the leaves from the branches, Webb has a clear view of the mobile home park.

"We're hoping that eventually new homes will come in there and those mobile homes will be gone," said Webb, who has lived on Somersby Court in Bowling Brook Farms for five years. "I feel that people would be more willing to buy a home if it didn't have a view of a mobile home park."

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