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Beechcrest Mobile Home Park residents rip county officials

Residents living in and around North Laurel's Beechcrest Mobile Home Park lashed out at Howard County officials Thursday, saying they were not properly notified of the county's plans to build an apartment complex for the chronically homeless.

Janice Brown, a 15-year resident of Beechcrest, said residents felt the "rug was pulled out from under us" as far as their involvement in the future of Beechcrest.

"What could we have down to fix up our community?" Brown said. "Was there somebody we could have called?"

The county Housing Commission acquired the land at the 5.5-acre mobile home park in September from Atapco Properties, and plans to build between 33 and 50 one-room apartments for the chronically homeless. The park is scheduled to close Nov. 15.

The land, valued at $1.6 million, was given to the Housing Commission by Atapco in exchange for an adjustment to its MIHU (Moderate Income Housing Unit) requirements for the Howard Square Development on Route 1, according to Tom Carbo, executive director of the Housing Commission.

The meeting became tense at times, as residents yelled at county officials demanding to know why the community was not notified about the project before the land was acquired in September. About 90 residents attended Thursday's meeting, compared to 20 at the county's first meeting in November.

Gary Molina, a two-year resident of Beechcrest, said he had no notice of the county's plan and questioned whether the county's assistance would be sufficient.

"We don't deserve to be kicked out like dogs," he said.

Carbo assured residents that the project is in the "early stages," and that the county will provide adequate relocation assistance to Beechcrest residents.

"We are the Howard County Housing Commission, we provide affordable housing," Carbo said. "We don't make people homeless."

Tom Terrio, a North Laurel resident since May, said he was concerned with how the county was getting information out to the community.

Terrio, who lives less than a mile from Beechcrest, said he didn't hear about the project until late December. He added that finding information about the project was on the county's website was not easy.

"It's like you [the county] are masking the truth," he said.

There have been no architectural plans submitted to the county, which is why there has not yet been a pre-submission community meeting, Carbo said.

He added that the proposed apartment complex is a "concept" and that the county is "open to other ideas."

The proposed site is behind the Econo Lodge on Route 1, and sits between the Country Meadows apartment complex to the east and single-family homes to the west.

It was chosen, Carbo said, because of the homeless population along the Route 1 corridor.

According to the county's 2012 point in time survey, conducted in January 2012, there were 46 homeless residents in North Laurel, 37 of them men.

Not everyone who showed up Thursday was opposed to the project.

Carolyn O'Donnell, an Elkridge resident, said the Day Resource Center in Jessup helped her recover from living in a tent after her husband lost his job. She said the county would benefit from having another place where the homeless could go for help.

"Don't judge the homeless," she said. "The Day Resource Center helped me; they got me back on my feet."

Carbo has said that no county funds will be used for the project. Volunteers of America, a national faith-based nonprofit would own the apartment building and lease the property from the county. It also would manage the building, which is expected to be two- or three-stories high.

The efficiency style apartments will house one person each and will include space for a fold out couch and a desk that will serve as a dresser. The apartments also will also have a small kitchenette and bathroom.

A Howard County Transit bus stop might also be added on Route 1 near the apartment complex.

A resource center on the first floor will be available for residents and the county's homeless population during the day for mental health services, substance abuse treatment, job placement and financial and health care benefit programs.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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