Rumors of park sale stir unease

Man building school considers purchase of 20-acre parcel

Mobile home dwellers wary

March 10, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

A Lutherville media executive who is building a $16 million private school in Finksburg is interested in buying a neighboring mobile home park, and the prospective sale is causing some residents to wonder whether they'll be able to continue living there.

Frederick G. Smith, vice president of Hunt Valley-based Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. and president and founder of Gerstell Academy, wouldn't confirm that he was buying the 20-acre Todd Village mobile home park on Old Westminster Pike.

"There are a lot of things that need to be qualified before anybody would want to purchase that as a business," he said.

Smith did say, however, that if he buys the land from the George L. Shields Foundation, the mobile home park would remain there.

"It's a business," Smith said. "I'm a businessman."

Gerstell, on 96 acres of farmland off Old Westminster Pike, is expected to open in the fall as a private, coeducational school with more than 600 students.

The Freven Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed by Smith, has bought 160 acres from the trailer park's owner, the Shields Foundation. That tract includes 70 acres that sold for nearly $670,000 in April, according to county land records.

The land Smith bought previously from Shields, part of which will be used for the school's athletic fields, includes the woods behind Todd Village, said Robert M. Reiner, the attorney representing the Shields Foundation. He declined to identify prospective buyers.

Liquidating assets

Reiner said Todd Village is being sold because its owner, George L. Shields, died in July 1999 and the foundation is liquidating his corporation. A 25-unit Shields recreational vehicle park outside Westminster was sold last year, Reiner said. He declined to reveal Todd Village's selling price.

Todd Village is a tidy, 100-unit mobile home park within sight of Route 140. A handful of recreational vehicles occupy the area facing Old Westminster Pike. The rest of them line a network of narrow streets off the main road.

Jerry Weishaar, a resident of Todd Village since 1991, heard rumors three weeks ago that the property was up for sale and has spoken to Smith, her neighbors and the mobile home park manager about it.

"This is causing me a great deal of anguish and anxiety," said Weishaar. "This situation puts me in jeopardy."

Weishaar said she is concerned that if Smith buys the park for "millions," her $345-a-month ground rent will increase. She said she isn't sure whether she'll be able to find a place for her 1975 mobile home if the park closes, or whether she'll be able to sell it because many mobile home parks are closing or are not open to new residents.

`Nowhere to go'

Whoever buys Todd Village is not legally bound to maintain the property as a mobile home park, Reiner said. Any buyer with plans to close the park is required to give tenants a year's notice, he said.

That provision offers little solace to Weishaar, who planned to distribute fliers about the possible sale to neighbors last week.

"If you have nowhere to go, it doesn't matter how many years you have," said the State Highway Administration employee, who estimates that she has made more than $20,000 worth of improvements to her $19,000 mobile home over the past decade.

She said she would qualify for a mortgage of about $700 a month but doubts that would buy a home as nice as the one she has now.

"It's a mess," Weishaar said. "And there's nothing that can protect us."

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