New Colony receives variances

Board's ruling seen aiding residents in legal ordeal

May 20, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A Howard County Board of Appeals decision to grant zoning variances to residents of New Colony Village in Jessup promises to end the long legal and financial ordeal that left them unable to sell their homes.

The board voted, 4-0, Tuesday night to grant the lot-size variances that will allow residents to subdivide and buy the land under their manufactured homes, making them eligible for bank financing.

"Boy, are we happy," said Brian Hartford, 61, a heart transplant recipient who with his wife, Dorothea, is renting a New Colony unit until they can get financing to buy it.

"I'd be surprised if there isn't a serious block party after this," said Kimberly Fisher, another resident.

A County Council bill solidifying the legal basis for the appeals board's solution is scheduled to be introduced tomorrow, with a vote June 7.

The long months of working on a painfully technical solution to the problem has taken its toll, residents told the board at the hearing.

Sue Hartlaub said she bought a house in June 2002. "It was a chance to get a single-family home in Howard County -- affordable housing," she said.

But the inability to obtain bank financing has been a major liability. "We're trapped," she said. "Families have been devastated. Foreclosures have already occurred. People have lost their homes."

Linda Webster testified that "my better half suffered two heart attacks." She needed to draw on equity in the home to pay his medical bills but found she couldn't sell or refinance. "I had no one to go to," she said, and her credit has suffered.

New Colony was designed as a traditional residential neighborhood, and many of its 228 houses have second stories and basements and other trappings of conventional houses. But the community technically is a mobile home park, and the lots the homes occupy are leased to the residents.

The first crop of buyers found they could not sell or refinance because banks would not grant mortgages.

County officials tried to fix that last year with a law allowing subdivision of the land, despite the undersized lots, but more than 100 of the owners found they were not covered by the law. That led to this year's renewed, multifront effort. The residents sought zoning variances to legalize the lots and allow the subdivision but were rebuffed last month by county hearing examiner Thomas P. Carbo.

Now, everyone feels the solution is at hand.

"I think we've finally provided resolution to a long journey," said Wayne Newsome, the Glenwood developer who built the project, which is on U.S. 1 just north of Route 175. "We're extremely excited and grateful that the board unanimously" acted.

County Councilman David A. Rakes, a Democrat who represents the area, and Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said they plan to go ahead with a new council bill that would strengthen the protections for residents.

"The Board of Appeals decision is welcome news, but given the trouble we've had, it makes sense to cover all the bases," Guzzone said.

About 50 residents attended the hearing and broke into applause when the result was announced, according to several people who were there.

"I've never seen a happier group of individuals," said Barry Michael Sanders, the assistant county solicitor who presented the county's case.

He said the board based its ruling partly on an April 29 administrative decision by Marsha S. McLaughlin, the county planning director. The decision came out three days after Carbo denied variances to the residents.

In her decision, McLaughlin said that New Colony Village is unique and it already exists, so granting the variances would not change anything in the community.

To help low-income residents who cannot afford to buy their lots, the county Housing Commission plans to step in and act as a broker, Neil Gaffney, the deputy housing director, testified.

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