New Colony Village land purchase OK'd

Housing Commission vote has owners closer to buying property under their homes

January 21, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

After months of deliberation and delay, Howard County's Housing Commission voted unanimously last night to buy the land under the New Colony Village housing development, giving long-suffering owners there hope that soon they can sell or refinance their homes.

The commission also agreed to buy a pair of three-bedroom homes that share a century-old building under renovation in the 8400 block Frederick Road in Ellicott City's historic district - with a plan to sell them for $130,000 each as moderate-income housing under a new county law.

In addition, the group voted to authorize buying three more renovated units from the same builder, Jared Spahn.

The New Colony Village problem has bedeviled residents and county officials for months.

"It's been a complicated process for a long time, but we have an opportunity to make this happen," said commission Chairman Kevin J. Kelehan, noting that more steps are needed before the residents can buy the lots under their homes.

"It's reassuring to residents that things are moving forward," said Leonard S. Vaughan, the county housing director.

No one knows that better than New Colony residents like Tom Simpers, 56, and Tina Sakash, 45, who watched the commission vote last night.

"I believe in Murphy's Law," Simpers quipped.

"I'm just excited," said Sakash.

New Colony Village's 227 manufactured homes, along U.S. 1 in Elkridge, were hailed as an innovative way to provide affordable housing when the community was built several years ago.

Although three banks financed mortgages for the initial buyers, residents later found they could not sell or refinance their homes because the 23 acres on which they sit is leased, not owned, by the homeowners. Without land ownership to secure mortgages, banks would not lend money and the owners found they were stuck.

"This is excellent. These people worked hard for us, and it's truly appreciated," said Simpers, a New Colony Village resident since 1999.

"That's good news. We're seeing light at the end of the tunnel," Sakash added.

The county's attempt to correct the unusual situation has taken months and still isn't over. First, the County Council in May passed legislation reducing the minimum allowable lot size to enable subdivision of New Colony's land into 2,000- to 3,000-square- foot parcels. If everything goes right, the land could be subdivided by mid-March, Vaughan said.

But he must obtain commercial insurance for the commission's officers and directors to protect the county, and arrange bank financing for the deal.

Last night's vote was to approve the commission's purchase of the land for about $15 million. Sakash said real estate agents have told her that potential buyers for the moderately priced homes "are lined up" because Howard County's average home price is now well over $300,000 and rising fast.

The moderate-income housing purchase is a different situation. A law approved by the County Council last fall allows developers a new option when they are required to build a few moderate-income homes as part of large new projects. They can renovate an older home to fulfill 20 percent of their obligation, as long as $50,000 is spent on any renewal.

The idea is to help eliminate problem homes in older neighborhoods, prevent blight and spread moderate-income units more widely around the county.

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