Bill aims to ease housing shortage

It would let mobile homes be moved from closed parks to expanding ones

Howard County

September 03, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's high home prices and tight growth-control laws make daunting barriers to providing new middle-income housing, but a County Council bill due for introduction tonight seeks to keep a segment of the existing supply from shrinking.

Returning from last month's recess, the council will receive a raft of measures at tonight's meeting in the George Howard Building, including a resolution asking state legislators to again limit fireworks sales in the county to hand-held sparklers.

The housing bill, proposed by Chairman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, would help stabilize the number of mobile home sites in the eastern county, especially along U.S. 1, where businesses say they cannot find enough workers.

The issue arose two years ago, when three contiguous, jointly owned North Laurel trailer parks in the U.S. 1 median near Laurel Race Course, with about 60 units combined, announced plans to close. More recently, Brentwood Manor Mobile Home Park, several miles north, filed plans to expand by 45 units.

Under current law, Brentwood owner Gilbert Mobley has to wait for a housing allocation under county growth-control laws, which could delay his plans several years. Meanwhile, Mobley said, "Our park is presently full and we have customers who would like to live here."

He noted that Ridgewood Mobile Home Park, with 150 units, also closed recently near Arundel Mills in Anne Arundel County, a victim of the expansion of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Gray's bill, which would cover any Howard trailer park closed after Jan. 1, 2000, would allow the transfer of mobile homes from a park that closes to another that expands without running the gantlet of Howard's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance if the two parks are in the same school district.

Another Gray bill would encourage owners of mobile home parks to provide more recreational space for residents and their children.

If the first bill passes, units eliminated when the North Laurel parks close could be quickly re-established at Brentwood Manor in Jessup.

"The thought was that mobile home parks are an affordable home component, and here's an opportunity to add mobile homes with no net increase. If an apartment house burned down, you'd build another apartment house," said Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the county planning director.

County housing officials hoping to build 30 moderate-income detached houses to sell for about $150,000 each in the same area must wait up to four years under county laws limiting to about 300 the number of new homes each year in the southeastern corner of the county, even though the county has the land.

Several mixed-use developments are getting under way in the southeastern section, using up all of the allocations for new homes until 2006.

The mobile home bill would at least prevent the loss of homes as older parks along the U.S. 1 corridor are closed and sold for redevelopment.

"It's extremely important. We've seen [home] prices escalate, and people are priced out of the county," Gray said.

The average price for a new house in Howard County was $273,478 in June. Mobley said a mobile or manufactured home typically costs $30,000 to $85,000. The monthly rent for a space in a trailer park is about $470, he said.

Gray noted that his bill would help preserve the units from the Crane, M&S and Crescent parks in North Laurel, and at any parks that close in the future.

The fireworks resolution, sponsored by Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, asks legislators to exempt Howard County from a state law passed last year that expands the types of ground-display fireworks that can be sold in Maryland. Baltimore is exempt, as are Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Complaints about the expanded variety of fireworks and the large, blue-and-white-striped tent in which they were sold at Owen Brown Village Center prompted the resolution, Guzzone's staff said.

A home in Abingdon, in Harford County, was destroyed July 1 when teen-agers threw a ground sparkler from their car, igniting bushes and the house.

Bills introduced tonight will be subject to a public hearing Sept. 17 and will be voted on Oct. 7.

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