Mobile-home residents loath to move

Development plan in Arundel leaves families little option

March 04, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Colonial Manor Estates mobile-home park is an island of inexpensive housing in an upscale neighborhood near Annapolis. Since the 1940s, it has nestled there, its children attending one of the best public schools in Anne Arundel County.

But the park is closing to make way for more expensive single-family homes, similar to those that have been springing up around it on former farms and woodlands for 15 years.

While neighbors in those homes nearby applaud the park's demise as a boon to their property values, the closing presents a tremendous challenge for the 40 or so families living at Colonial Manor: They own their homes but soon might have no place to put them.

"Every day I wake up and say, `What am I going to do? Where am I going to go?'" said Janice Gregory, 63.

Mobile homes - many of which are not particularly mobile - are restricted to designated parks in the county, and many in the area are full. No new ones have opened in more than 30 years, limiting the residents' options.

Many families at Colonial Manor are saddled with mortgages and low on cash, and moving a mobile home can cost as much as $5,000 for a double-wide, if it can be moved at all.

Despite their hardships, this is not a community of "trailer trash," transients or deviants, they say. This is a community of limited resources, where people came to live and raise their kids, and where some say they expected to die.

"These are not just 40 lots and structures, we are families - we work hand to mouth," said Sherri Kashuba, a Colonial Manor resident who has gone to the county and state seeking assistance for her neighbors. "It's not about choices, it's about resources."

The 55-lot park on 7 acres on the Broadneck Peninsula is a mix of new-looking mobile homes - which hardly look like mobile homes at all - and older, traditional-looking trailers, a few of them run-down. In addition to middle-age couples and retirees, the community has young families with children - drawn by the quality of the school system, which includes nearby Windsor Farm Elementary. The yards are mostly well-kept, some with decks and tidy gardens.

When the Joseph family purchased the park and 12 acres of woods next to it in 1975, the area was rural. That began to change about a decade later, when the first of the upscale single-family house developments opened next door.

Robert Joseph said his family wanted to expand the mobile-home park ever since they bought it. But that plan was repeatedly opposed by the county, he said. (The county has no record of a formal application for a zoning change by the owners, a zoning official said.)

"We wanted to build a bigger, nicer place, but it just cannot be done in this county anymore," Joseph said. "In its current state - and that will never change - [the park] is not economically viable."

Though the Josephs had turned down several offers from developers to buy the property over the past five years, they decided this year that they could not afford to wait any longer.

Six months ago, after the county proposed a zoning change that would enable the property to be developed into single family homes, they began talks with Koch Homes Inc. Koch, which has built upscale neighborhoods nearby, has contracted to buy the property and plans to convert all 19 acres into a senior community with 46 homes starting in the high $200,000s. The company hopes to begin construction in about two years, said Kevin Lusby, Koch's director of land development.

Colonial Manor residents learned of the sale the week before Christmas when the Josephs sent them letters, explaining that they will be given one year's notice before having to move.

Since then, several trailers have been put up for sale and others have been abandoned.

The remaining residents have begun counting down the park's final days. They worry about steep losses if they try to sell their trailers, the cost to relocate them, the mortgages they might default on and the prospect of having to move into public housing or out of Anne Arundel County altogether.

It's a move that some never expected to make.

Dan Brennan is one of the newest as well as one of the oldest residents at Colonial Manor. The 83-year-old moved here eight months ago after injuries suffered in a car accident made it difficult for him to take care of himself. When he spent $8,500 for the old trailer next to his son's, he thought he was making an investment for the rest of his life.

"I thought, `Here I am now. I'll live here forever,'" Brennan said. Like many of the residents, Brennan said he does not know what he'll do when the time comes for him to leave Colonial Manor.

Janice Gregory, who shares a mobile home with her 88-year-old aunt who has kidney disease, also thought she had moved for the last time when she bought a new $34,000 mobile home six years ago and moved to Colonial Manor.

"What am I supposed to do?" she said. "I put all of my eggs in one basket."

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