Feeling under threat in mobile homes

Residents feeling threatened

Land: Residents of more than 2,000 units in Howard County see development taking their form of affordable housing.

January 21, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Tiffany Davis is acting secretary of the homeowners association at Aladdin Village mobile home park in Elkridge. But she and her comrades don't act as covenant police, regulating the size of mailboxes or how to dispose of Christmas trees. They're fighting for their community's survival.

The group was formed after the park's owners submitted a proposal to rezone the land for offices, shops and apartments, which would require residents of Aladdin's 241 homes to eventually relocate.

It is a problem that Davis and other residents of the more than 2,000 mobile homes in Howard County face because they live in what some say is a rapidly vanishing form of affordable housing in one of the state's wealthiest regions. As the land on which their trailers rest grows more and more attractive for the retail and residential uses that the county is promoting for the U.S. 1 corridor, some county officials believe that mobile-home parks will close, leaving residents with few options.

Few protections are in place for owners of mobile homes, which are not as easily transported as their name indicates. State law requires that park owners give residents a year's notice before closing. In Howard, owners also must provide relocation plans with applications to change the use. But few parks accept older homes, and many are mobile in name only - they would not structurally survive a move.

At a Aladdin Village meeting Jan. 14, County Councilman David A. Rakes, a Democrat who represents the area, promised that he would not support the proposal to rezone the park through the county's current once-a-decade rezoning process.

"There will be no new rezoning in your community," he told a crowd of about 50 people.

But he could not guarantee that things would never change.

"On the other hand, you're renting from someone else," Rakes told the residents. "I wish I could say you could live there forever, but you can't."

Leonard S. Vaughan, the county housing director, has said that it might take as little as five years for land to become so valuable that other owners choose to bail out. And few practical solutions exist to retain the parks.

"Someone would have to compensate owners for the value of the land," Vaughan said.

"We're talking about land that's going to be worth millions of dollars," he added. "We don't have a priority right now for affordable housing. Our priority now is the schools."

With construction costs for schools as high as they are, "there's definitely not the funding available nor the will to do it at this time," Vaughan said.

County Executive James N. Robey said he understands the value of mobile homes, especially since he has lived in one. If they can't be preserved, Robey said, then an alternative must be found.

"It's the opportunity for that kind of housing that we should be protecting," he said. "This is not just the county of the rich and the affluent."

Mixed-use zones proposed for the U.S. 1 corridor will be required to include moderate-income housing units, said Marsha McLaughlin, the county planning director.

The departments of Planning and Zoning and Housing and Community Development received a state Community Legacy grant last month to conduct a relocation study for businesses and residents in the U.S. 1 corridor that might be displaced.

In addition to Aladdin Village, four other Howard County mobile home parks are up for rezoning, although at least two could continue to operate under their new zones.

Mid Way Mobile Village in North Laurel and Maple Park in Jessup are included in the Department of Planning and Zoning's proposal to create employment and community centers along the U.S. 1 corridor. But under the new zoning, these parks could remain and expand as "nonconforming uses." Carol Lyons, Mid Way's manager, had no comment.

Residents of Ev-Mar Mobile Village in Savage are negotiating with representatives of the estate of the former owners to purchase the property to form a housing cooperative. The estate is seeking zoning for townhouses so the land can be sold.

And at Pfister's Mobile Home Park in North Laurel, park owners have submitted an application to change from industrial to manufactured-home zoning for about 30 acres. Howard County allows townhouse and apartment developments in addition to mobile homes on parcels zoned for mobile homes that are greater than 25 acres.

"It needs redevelopment, and it would be redeveloped under [mobile-home] zoning," said attorney David A. Carney, who represents some of the owners.

But Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Inc., which owns an ice-cream manufacturing plant next to Pfister's, also is negotiating to purchase the property to expand its facility, said Elissa Levan, an attorney representing Dreyer's.

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