Residents are dealt another setback

New Colony homeowners left in legal limbo by ruling

Many unable to sell, refinance

Decision prevents them from gaining title to land


April 28, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

After more than a year of bureaucratic wrangling, residents of New Colony Village in Jessup face yet another roadblock in their frustrating struggle to end the legal limbo that has left many unable to sell or refinance their homes.

The Howard County hearing examiner has ruled that more than 100 of New Colony's 228 homes cannot be legally subdivided, despite county legislation passed in May to address their predicament.

The ruling, released Monday, effectively prevents homeowners from gaining ownership of the land on which their houses sit.

Councilman David A. Rakes, a Democrat who represents the area and sponsored a bill to ease the problem, called the decision "abominable."

"Parts of the county government are working against their dream, and I'm very disappointed in that," he said.

Rakes said he is planning new legislation.

The developers of the nearly 27-acre property are considering filing a motion for reconsideration or appealing the decision, said attorney Richard B. Talkin.

New Colony was designed as a "traditional residential neighborhood" consisting of more than 200 homes, many with second stories and basements, and other trappings of conventional houses.

The community is technically a mobile home park, however. Owners pay monthly rent for the property on which their dwellings were built.

"This was an alternative way to try to provide for affordable housing," said Wayne Newsome, one of the developers of the project.

Without title to the land under their homes, owners have been trapped in a legal and financial nightmare, unable to sell their property because few financiers are willing to lend money to new buyers or to refinance loans.

Some owners have abandoned their homes and accepted foreclosure. Others have found themselves juggling mortgage payments on two properties when contracts with buyers fell through.

Newsome worked with residents and elected officials for more than a year on a plan to sell the land to the homeowners, but New Colony's proposed lots did not meet several requirements of the county's subdivision regulations.

In January last year, county hearing examiner Thomas P. Carbo denied Newsome's request for variances from the regulations and recommended instead that he seek legislative changes.

The County Council responded, passing a bill in May that reduced the minimum lot size in "traditional residential neighborhoods" from 4,000 square feet to 2,000 and reducing the required lot width from 45 feet to 20.

"We thought the legislation was very sound," Rakes said.

But the remedy did not go far enough. In March, Newsome again sought variances because 105 homes are closer to other homes than regulations allow.

"We're talking, in some cases, 25 inches," Rakes said. "That seems absurd to me."

New Colony resident Kristina M. Sakash, who hopes to refinance her home, testified in favor of Newsome's application. No one opposed it at the hearing.

"Normally, when a development is built, it is designed to meet the regulations," she said. "This community was already built, so you can't go back and start over."

Carbo said in his decision that it was important to enforce the standards "to protect the integrity of the County's comprehensive zoning plan."

Either the developer did not ask the County Council to change the regulations to address the setback violations, he wrote, or the County Council did not want to change the regulations.

Marsha McLaughlin, the county planning director, said the county developed the legislation using information from the consultant engineer.

"We assumed that they were far enough along in the subdivision design," she said. "That was not the case."

Rakes said yesterday he is working on a new bill to resolve the problem.

In the meantime, "that's obviously going to hold everybody up and could have very serious consequences for everyone who needs to sell," said New Colony resident Kimberly Fisher, a part-time Realtor who represents several of her neighbors.

Desi Rogers, who has lived in New Colony Village for more than two years, said she and her husband hope to sell their home before the birth of their first child, expected in June.

"It's hard to enjoy it because we don't have a nursery," she said. "I don't know where we stand as homeowners."

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