Seeking a path out of a legal limbo

Proposed zoning change would free New Colony

`The way to fix the problem'


March 21, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

A quirk of zoning and the rules of financing have conspired to keep New Colony Village residents from selling their homes, but now it seems simply a matter of time before both problems are history.

County Councilman David A. Rakes and County Executive James N. Robey are petitioning to amend the zoning regulations, hoping to free people from a legal limbo that has trapped some in the quaint Elkridge community while others who had to move got stuck with two mortgages. Still others have been unable to refinance.

The local Planning Board enthusiastically weighed in this week, with all four members present recommending the change.

The County Council expects to vote on the matter in May. A majority of the councilmen said this week that they intend to support the change.

"This is going to be the way to fix the problem," said Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat who also represents New Colony's section of Elkridge. "It's just a question of redefining the parameters. ... This is a very, very unique housing project."

New Colony, which is between U.S. 1 and Interstate 95, has 228 single-family houses with second stories, basements, even some porches and balconies - all considered "mobile homes." Residents don't and can't own the land because it is not subdivided, and it cannot be subdivided because the lots would be too small under Howard County regulations.

Wayne Newsome, a developer who owns the New Colony land with a partner, sees it as a creative affordable-housing technique in an increasingly expensive region, but home-mortgage companies have proven very leery of financing the land-less deals.

Only a few were involved in the new-sale loans, and one of those firms pulled out last year, making the resale of the homes even harder. For a while recently, Realtors said, there was no money available.

The zoning petition would decrease the minimum lot size and lot width requirements for "traditional residential neighborhoods" in mobile home zones. New Colony is the only "traditional residential neighborhood" in a mobile home zone in Howard County. The change would make subdivision possible, and then people living in the upscale-looking prefab homes could buy their lots if they desire.

"Oh, I'm so glad to hear that," said Columbia Realtor Lucille M. Souder. "If they do that, then we can get loans."

Souder's New Colony client, Regina Kleve, sold her house on contract a few days after putting it on the market last fall, but the financing fell through and the buyer pulled out - after Kleve had purchased a home in Catonsville.

She was stuck with two mortgages until three weeks ago, when a young couple bought the New Colony home. They were willing to move in because they figured the land would be subdivided by the time they want to sell, Souder said.

An attorney who represents several mobile home parks in Howard asked the Planning Board this week to consider expanding the rule changes to include other developments in the mobile home zoning.

Linda Dombrowski, a board member, said she wants to discuss that idea as county leaders consider how to comprehensively rezone Howard's landscape this year. But her main concern during the Wednesday night meeting, which more than a half-dozen New Colony residents attended, was to ensure that no one in the neighborhood slips through the cracks under Rakes' petition.

"Wouldn't that just be a terrible thing?" she said.

She said Newsome assured her the minimum lot sizes proposed include everyone.

The change cannot come too soon for Roland and Arlene Morin, who are still stuck in their home more than 400 days after they put it on the market - in a county where the average home sells in about a month.

"A number of people say they wanted to wait to see if the land subdivision went through or not, so that's been a stalling point," said Roland Morin."It's a very difficult situation," said County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, "and it needs to be resolved."

Sun staff writer Liz F. Kay contributed to this article.

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