Charles County Planning Commission Chairman Thomas (Mac) Middleton said he was referring to planning commission members, and not county commissioners, in an article in the June 15 Maryland Weekly in which he said commissioners didn't favor mobile homes as a means to house the county's poor.
Charles County zoning officials are considering an ordinance that would make it illegal for mobile homes to be kept on private lots smaller than four acres, a move they said would help eliminate substandard conditions.
But in a stormy hearing last week, mobile-home owners said the regulation would work against the poor, elderly and infirm who live in such structures, and they characterized the proposal as an attempt to force those individuals out of the county.
The ordinance also would ban mobile-home parks smaller than 50 acres and would limit usage in the parks to five homes per acre. Current mobile-home and park owners would be given three years to meet the requirements.
About 2 percent of the county's 72,000 residents live in mobile homes at seven community parks and at an estimated 800 individual locations. County zoning ordinances currently state that "no mobile home shall be stored or used . . . if located outside a mobile-home park," but officials say the seven mobile-home parks are filled to capacity and have waiting lists. The individual homes are set illegally, they said, but there is little effort to police them.
County officials maintain the ordinance is needed to help maintain health and safety standards for a class of housing that has gone largely unregulated. Some mobile homes lack sewage, water and electricity connections, the officials note. The proposed ordinance would require owners to have "adequate water and sewer facilities" on their property.
Sal Momone, who lives in a $30,000 mobile home, said the proposal is a means of "telling mobile home owners to get out of Charles County."
The county's Board of Commissioners voted last year to stop building federally subsidized housing; mobile-home owners said last week their type of housing fills that need.
More than 350 angry owners and representatives of the Charles County Housing Coalition and church groups packed the county courthouse where the County Planning Commission hearing was held last week. Officials were forced to move the meeting to the nearby LaPlata High School auditorium. There, three armed sheriff's deputies stood, arms crossed, as speakers took the stage.
The owners described circumstances they said made their mobile homes essential.
"Many hundreds of our poorest citizens will be forced out of our county," said Father John J. Scanlan of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Malcolm, where there are many mobile homes. He urged the commission to allow the existing mobile homes on individual lots to remain where they are. And he asked that the county provide low-interest loans, encourage low-cost housing development and offer "more alternatives for our older citizens."
"I have to pay $170 every two weeks for arthritis medicine," Ralph Davis told the commission. "I couldn't afford to buy a home." He prompted thunderous applause when he said, "If somebody throws me out of my home, he'll have to move me into his house."
The Rev. Yancy Warren, pastor of Woodland Village Baptist Church in Indian Head, said a mobile home made it possible for his handicapped, deaf brother to live independently on wages of $65 a week.
Doris Wheeler, manager of Idlewood Park, a mobile-home community near the Prince George's County line, said only one of the seven mobile-home parks in the county is more than 50 acres. The 103 families living at Idlewood would have to move if the ordinance passes, she said.
None of the planning commissioners raised a hand when Dorothy Stuckey asked them whether any lived in a mobile home. "Our fate rests with you nine people who don't live in mobile homes," she said. "If we could afford four acres of land, we wouldn't be living in a trailer."
However, some at the meeting said they preferred mobile homes.
Planning Commission Chairman Mac Middleton said in an interview the county commissioners don't believe mobile homes are "the answer to the needs of the county's poor. . . . We don't want Charles County becoming a trailer county."