The Anne Arundel County Council, bowing to growing opposition from community leaders, defeated legislation tonight that would have allowed construction of new trailer parks, but kept alive a measure that would permit expansion of existing ones.
Earlier in the day, County Executive James Lighthizer said he would veto the legislation if it passed as drafted, saying mobile homes have an "image problem."
The measures had been sought by those who advocate supplying more inexpensive housing in the county as well as by mobile home owners who are prevented by present law from placing their homes on their own lots. The council struck down a provision that would have changed this.
Lighthizer, an environmentalist elected in 1982 as a proponent of controlled growth, asserted that it is not the county government's job to encourage development of affordable housing.
Tonight's vote was 4 to 3, with the majority citing opposition to the measures and fear that the legislation would make too many changes too quickly.
County Planning and Zoning Director F. Beck Curdle said later Lighthizer will support the expansion of the 29 trailer parks that already exist in the county, the only part of the legislation to survive the vote.
A public hearing on the expansion bill was scheduled for Oct. 24.
The Anne Arundel trailer controversy has escalated as neighboring Prince George's County has been embroiled in a similar dispute involving issues of affordable housing and property values. Last Friday, a developer, bowing to community opposition, withdrew a proposal for a 600-unit mobile home park in the Accokeek area of southern Prince George's County.
"My general feeling is I can't support a bill that materially increases the number of mobile homes in this county," Lighthizer said during a regularly scheduled morning news conference. He later said that mobile homes have an "image problem," and he sided with a handful of community leaders who recently testified that they feared mobile homes would lower property values.
Further, Lighthizer publicly opposed for the first time a general effort by the County Council to legislate relief for low- and middle-income residents who cannot find housing. Current zoning laws provide for a "balance" of housing types, he said.
"I don't feel we have to encourage more affordable housing in Anne Arundel County," he said. Lighthizer disagreed with a citizen task force that reported earlier this year that there was a "critical" shortage of low- and middle-income housing here.
That report concluded that the average cost of a house in Anne Arundel County was $81,704, requiring an annual income of $41,000 while the median family income was only $27,542.
Lighthizer's comments drew the ire of two of the bills' sponsors.
"I think it is the county's responsibility to help all of its citizens," said Councilman Theodore Sophocleus (D-Linthicum). "At this point, our teachers, firemen, police, young marrieds and seniors can't afford to live here. I think we have a responsibility to do everything we can to keep them here."
The proposed legislation was drafted over two years and coincided with recommendations made by the county's advisory committee on affordable housing in its February report.