It's official: Pfister's to close

Housing: The mobile home park opened in 1948 expects to close in a year.

March 02, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Residents of a North Laurel mobile home park learned they will have to move by the end of March next year, when its owners may sell the site to a nearby ice cream plant.

A letter distributed to about 70 households over the weekend by the owners of Pfister's Mobile Home Park on U.S. 1 stated that it will close March 31, 2005, because of the potential sale of the approximately 30-acre property.

The owners' attorneys answered questions at a meeting last night at a nearby school. Representatives from Howard County's Department of Housing and Community Development made appointments there to meet individually with residents to discuss their needs.

Pfister's may be one of the first mobile home parks - a vital source of affordable housing in affluent Howard - to disappear because of the rising value of land along the U.S. 1 corridor. Many residents bought their homes decades ago, and the highest "lot rent" is $362.

"This is the cheapest place you can live once you pay for it," said Betty Elmer, who moved to Pfister's after a park near Baltimore-Washington International Airport closed seven years ago.

Few open spots exist at other parks in Howard and surrounding counties. Homes more than five to 10 years old might not survive a move or might not be accepted under another park's standards.

"This thing has got me so nervous, worrying about where we're going to go and about my investment," said Bill Lilly, 48, who said he paid $10,000 cash for his home eight years ago.

The park's owners said they are negotiating with Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Inc., which owns a manufacturing plant on Whiskey Bottom Road and could use the property to expand.

"This situation has been very difficult for us," said Mark Pfister, 47, the third generation of Pfisters to work at the park. "They're not just tenants; they're friends of ours."

His grandfather, Paul Pfister, opened the park in 1948. He willed it to his wife, who left it to her four children - Paul Jr. and three sisters - in her will.

Mark Pfister said his father, Paul Jr., operated the park until he died in 2000. Since then, Mark Pfister and his mother, Shirley, have taken responsibility for the approximately 70 units clustered on about 12 acres.

But now the other family members want to sell. "I have three aunts and they're all elderly and they're looking to get out of it," Mark Pfister said before the meeting. He works at the Dreyer's factory, which he said is interested in purchasing the property.

Dreyer's spokeswoman Dori Sera Bailey said that the company wants to expand on the East Coast but could not comment on any specific locations, including the North Laurel site.

Pfister's was one of three mobile home parks considered in Howard's once-a-decade comprehensive rezoning process. The property was zoned for industrial use, with the park allowed as a nonconforming use, and the Pfisters sought mobile home zoning. Councilmen feared the owners would build townhouses, which are allowed on properties larger than 25 acres with mobile home zoning.

The five County Council members voted unanimously against the Pfisters' request on Feb. 2. "We don't need additional townhouses to create higher stress on the school system and public service, whereas commercial property is really a net financial benefit," said North Laurel-Savage Democrat Guy Guzzone.

State law requires that owners give residents one year's notice before closing a park. The law also requires that owners develop a relocation plan.

At last night's meeting, attorney Richard B. Talkin said there would be a financial incentive for those who disposed of their trailers within four to six months, a sum equal to the cost of a year's rent in a moderately priced mobile home park.

Leonard S. Vaughan, the county housing director, said 30 grants of up to $2,500 for relocation assistance may be available, although senior citizens and the disabled would be preferred because of limited funds.

Some residents may be eligible for subsidized housing for seniors or first-time homebuyer programs or Section 8 rent subsidies. Although the current Section 8 waiting list has been frozen, people dislocated by revitalization would be considered.

Residents at the meeting, which lasted about an hour, were worried but calm and not surprised by the news. Many were steadfast in their support of Shirley and Mark Pfister.

Tears ran down 63-year-old Rose Madison's face yesterday afternoon as she described how Mark Pfister would shovel her walk or get her mail in the snow during her 41 years at the park.

"They've been terrific landlords," she said.

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