Airport noise could drive out mobile home residents


Marie Delano knows the precise spot in the grass at the end of her street where the black box will go. She eagerly awaits its arrival, because it could well decide the fate of her home.

Delano, an 18-year resident at the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park, and many of her neighbors fought for more than a year for the device, a permanent monitor that will measure noise from planes flying in and out of BWI Airport less than a mile away.

Here, a few decibels difference in the average daily noise levels will decide whether the 150 mobile homes stay or go.

If state law forces the homes to move because of noise, residents say the state, should pick up the tab for moving them and help find a place for them in a county where new mobile home sites have been illegal for decades.

After residents' repeated complaints that the Maryland Aviation Administration had stonewalled and deceived them, MAA officials agreed in October to provide the permanent monitor.

But a statewide spending freeze, which includes Department of Transportation construction spending, has delayed installation of the monitor and eight others in the area.

Adrienne Walker-Pittman, an MAA spokeswoman, said the monitor would not be installed for at least six months after the spending freeze is lifted.

Delano, who also serves as president of the Anne Arundel County Mobile Home Owners Association, said: "As long as we can't prove our noise problem here, we're just sitting ducks. We're just kind of at a standstill now, wondering if or how long we'll have homes and a place to put them."

Delano and other residents point out that the MAA has moved homes or paid to relocate homeowners displaced by airplane noise. But MAA officials say they've had no experience dealing with mobile homes, where the homeowners rent their land.

Because of noise levels, the state in 1988 forbid construction of homes in the area in-cluding the park, and county lawmakers restricted land use to industrial purposes.

But a temporary monitor placed in the park last October showed that the area, averaging 68.3 decibels a day, isn't noisy enough - yet - to qualify for state aid in relocating or moving the homes. Resident leaders, however, suggest the state has underestimated the noise levels.

Under the MAA's buyout program, the state buys homes in the airport "noise zone" where average daily noise from planes, exceeds 70 decibels, roughly the equivalent of a downtown street's volume.

Heightening residents' fears, many believe park owner Sam Shpak ultimately wants to sell Ridgewood and convert the land to a more profitable industrial use, such as warehouses. Shpak is vacationing and could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"It's just a really bad situation for these people, a real dilemma," said state Sen. Michael F. Wagner, the Ferndale Democrat who has lobbied state officials on behalf of the residents.

Noting that county law forbids new mobile home sites anywhere in the county, Wagner added. "The problem is if we don't find them a place, they simply have no place - and I mean, nowhere at all - to go."

Hoping to avoid leaving 150 households full of people with mobile homes and nowhere to put them. Wagner has lobbied state Department of Transportation officials to provide surplus state-owned land in Arundel where the homes could be moved.

Wagner said he hopes former Anne Arundel County Executive O. James Lighthizer's move to the helm of the transportation department will improve Ridgewood's chances of getting state-owned land.

Under the proposal, the state would give plots to individual residents, who now pay up to $300 a month ground rent as well as county property taxes, Wagner said.

Ken Brettell, a Ridgewood resident and one of the leaders of a group representing the park's tenants, said the state is forcing the move and therefore should bear the costs and provide the land.

Brettell noted that aviation officials have paid moving costs for mobile home residents displaced because of airport noise in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; St. Louis and Cleveland.

In Maryland, he said, Ridgewood tenants had been hurt unfairly by a longtime bias against mobile home owners.

"They've picked up houses and moved them and paid to move people, but then it comes to us. We're lost," he said. "And now, we could have no place to move because nobody wants us around. People say, 'No, no, we don't want those kind of people near us.'"

But, Brettell adds, "We pay taxes, too, and we want to stay in our mobile homes in our safe neighborhoods. The frustrating part is not knowing where 150 home-owners are going to be in a year, or sooner. Everyday, I check my mailbox and wonder if I'll find an eviction notice. It's like a time bomb, really."

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