Aladdin residents fear 1-year notice

Anxiety rises as mobile home park's sale advances


After school, children play in the streets of Aladdin Village Mobile Home Park near Jessup as they have for decades. But their shouts and laughter belie a quiet tension gripping many of the families living there. By summer, residents expect to get a letter that many of them dread, giving them the state-required, one-year notice that the 241-lot park will close for redevelopment and that they must move or lose their homes.

With land values in Howard County soaring, park owners are looking toward more lucrative redevelopment, which is what county officials want along U.S. 1. But that also means the loss of the kind of traditional affordable housing that mobile homes represent.

On Thursday, the Planning Board recommended, on a 3-2 vote, that a rezoning of the property being sought by the owners of Aladdin be approved. The matter will now be considered by the Zoning Board, made up of the five members of the County Council.

If eventually approved, the rezoning would permit 436 townhouses, 200 condominiums and a 100-room hotel.

Mark Levy of Rock Realty in Reisterstown, one of the new owners, said his firm will honor a 2004 relocation plan to help residents.

Levy said the 15-page relocation plan offered to residents in October 2004, which is filed with Howard County as part of the rezoning case, is still valid.

"We will absolutely stand on that relocation plan," he said. "This Aladdin situation will be a positive result for everybody."

He added, however, that "we have no obligation to do it."

The plan, written by a former park owner, is complex.

"You have to read it five times" to understand it, Levy said. It appears to offer no more than $7,000 for single-wide and up to $12,000 for double-wide units, some of which cost up to $60,000 new. Levy had no specific answer for people who cannot find a place to move their homes, yet owe more than $12,000 on their mortgages.

Levy said he expects a relocation mobile home park that could house about 60 Aladdin residents for up to 15 years to open a mile south on U.S. 1 within a year. He added that the relocation plan provides five options for residents. For those whose situation does not fit any of the scenarios, "hopefully we'll be there to help them," he said.

About 200 families remain in the park, which is not accepting new residents, Levy said. "I guarantee 180 of them we're going to get a positive resolution on. For the dozen or two in need, we're here to help them out," he said.

Residents with children in Howard County schools and those without alternatives would get first priority for the relocation park, and their homes would be moved free. Others would be moved free to other parks within 150 miles or they can sell their homes to Aladdin's owners.

Also, because the park will be developed in phases, not everyone must move at once, according to the plan, and some residents might qualify to buy new subsidized units on the 40.6-acre site.

But residents worry that those offers will not pan out or will pay them less than what they owe on their mortgages. Local parks have no room for more mobile homes, and trailers more than 10 years old often are not accepted if there is room, they said.

"You feel frustrated; you don't know how you are going to live," said Edward Morgan, 59, who lives with his wife, Sheila, 55, in a spacious, 10-year-old, double-wide unit on which they owe $38,000, he said. He fears losing the home while owing on the mortgage.

A similar drama has played out at much smaller parks along Howard County's U.S. 1 corridor - most recently at the former 30-lot Ev-Mar Mobile Home Park in Savage, where several residents lost nearly new homes and were evicted after a protracted court fight.

For Aladdin residents, the wait for the closing letter is an intensely personal crisis that sparks fear of financial ruin.

"What are you supposed to do?" asked Joe Morse, 61, a disabled former stonemason who lives with his wife, Mary, also 61 and also disabled, across Nancy Drive from the Morgans. The Morses owe $28,000 on their single-wide unit, they said.

The anxiety is no less intense for Eleanor G. Gyr, 71, a member of the county Housing and Community Development Board and a 28-year Aladdin resident.

The retired state accountant owns a three-bedroom double-wide mobile home free and clear and pays $504 a month in lot rent. She said her annual income is less than $25,000, and she fears being forced into a tiny subsidized apartment without room for the paraphernalia for her sewing, photography and pottery hobbies.

"Who knows?" she said. "It's all words until I get the one-year notice."

Linda North, 50, a single mother of two teenagers who bought an older mobile home at Aladdin three years ago after a financially devastating divorce, said she cannot afford to move.

"If we wait until the last minute, what's going to happen?" she said.

Peggy Libertini, 41, a nine-year resident, fears that moving her home would mean leaving Maryland.

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