Mobile home park decision questioned

November 28, 2011

After Tropical Storm Lee pummeled Northern Virginia in September, it was immediately clear which community in Prince William County would have the hardest time recovering — Holly Acres Mobile Home Park in Woodbridge.

Marumsco Creek had flooded the park, damaging mobile homes nearest the creek and washing away several, leaving dozens of residents homeless. The county condemned the property and issued demolition permits to clear out the portion that sat in a federally defined floodway.

Last week, the county Board of Zoning Appeals reversed those decisions. The board unanimously ruled that state law overrode the county’s rules regarding the rights of a property owner to rebuild after a flood and that the county used the wrong guidelines to make the decision. The board’s decision also allows the property owner, Henry Ridge, to rebuild units in the park.

The county entered only two mobile homes to look at the damage before deciding that all 63 in the area had been damaged by more than 50 percent of their assessed values — the trigger for allowing demolition, according to a county report. Damage visible from outside the mobile homes was enough to make the decision, county officials said.

Henry Ridge, who owns Holly Acres, has said he thinks it’s clear that the impoverished Latino community had been too easily brushed aside by county officials.

“It’s a sad thing that it takes a hearing and more expense on my part, and the attorneys fees, that you’re not even right about what your own code says,” Ridge said.

Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said in an interview that the county did the right thing in the aftermath of the storm by condemning an unsafe area. Stewart said he would like to appeal the zoning board’s decision to the Circuit Court — that decision, however, would need to be made on a majority vote by supervisors. The county’s attorneys plan to review the decision and make a recommendation to the Board of County Supervisors.

“It’s clearly a massive safety hazard, and we’re very lucky people didn’t get killed,” Stewart said of the mobile home park. “To allow this trailer park owner to [rebuild] . . . imperils the safety of these families. There’s a real question here of even if this trailer park owner has the right to put these trailers back into the path of moving water, is it ethical?”

Ridge said he hopes problems with the property that lead to flooding can be solved, in part, through an agreement with the county to improve Marumsco Creek to better handle floods.

CSX Railroad controls a nearby culvert that Ridge says hasn’t been properly maintained and contributed to September’s floods.

“I’m hoping there will be some kind of joint coordination between the county and the railroad,” Ridge said.

Residents at the meeting were mostly ecstatic with the decision, and many said they had been staying with friends and family for months while waiting to get back into the community.

“We lost everything,” said Holly Acres resident Sylvia Carranaza. “All we need now is a house to live in.”

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