A hearing today on whether a mobile home park proposed for nearby West River has complied with county standards turned into another skirmish in Anne Arundel County's unending battle over what to do with people who want to live in mobile homes.
Present on one side were about 50 residents of rural West River in southern Anne Arundel who oppose any development, especially one with the mobile homes that they say will decrease their property values.
On the other side stood mobile home representatives and a local developer who want to cluster 130 double-wide mobile homes on 40 acres of land.
The debate was heightened by the fact that the county has a great need for affordable housing. Anne Arundel reportedly has the lowest rental vacancy rate in the Washington area, and no available space in 29 privately owned mobile-home parks.
Developer Friedrich von Schwerdtner argued today to open up space on 111 acres of land he owns off Chalk Point Road. That would include 70 additional acres of open space to buffer the development from the surrounding area.
He would place new homes on foundations in the park, sell the homes and rent the land on which each sits for an average monthly cost of $775 to buyers, including mortgage, utilities and taxes, according to testimony given today before the county zoning hearing officer.
Although Schwerdtner has proper zoning for a mobile-home park development, a county ordinance requires that any such development also meet additional criteria such as having public water and sewers.
Today's hearing was to determine whether or not Schwerdtner has met those criteria. The county Office of Planning and Zoning says he has, but zoning hearing officer George Chartrand must make an official ruling in 30 days.
It is expected his decision will be appealed.
Edward B. Finch, a federal lawyer and resident of West River representing several area civic associations, opposed the subdivision on the grounds that Chalk Point Road is incapable of handling extra traffic.
He criticized two traffic studies done for the county and for Schwerdtner on the grounds that estimates of current traffic flow, upon which projections were based, were artificially low. Both studies said the road is adequate.
When Finch's fellow residents took the stand, they attacked mobile homes, not cars.
"There's going to be drugs and they're going to be attracted to the area and it's going to get rough," Townsend E. Avery said.
Irma Bigham said, "My view is if you buy next to a liquor store, you have to tolerate a liquor store, but if you were there first, a liquor store is intolerable."
Len Homa, a spokesman for the Mobile Manufactured Housing Association, tried to lay to rest the citizens' concerns.
He said the average mobile-home owner is "intelligent, affluent and most work in white-collar jobs," with an average combined family income of $40,000.
Four County Council members are now working on legislation to make construction of future parks easier, perhaps creating a special mobile-home zoning class that would no longer require a public hearing or decision by the hearing officer on individual developments.
The members said such homes would cost $25,000 to $75,000.