Residents of Penn Daw Mobile Home Park on Shields Avenue were assured Monday night by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland that he is a staunch supporter of their efforts to maintain their affordable housing regardless of future developments at Kings Crossing.
"If mobile home property is sold to a developer that developer has to come through [the County Board of Supervisors] for approval of whatever they want to do. I will not approve anything that does not take your needs and concerns into consideration," Hyland told members of the United Voice at Kings Crossing Community Association gathered at Groveton Baptist Church.
"Nineteen years ago, I got my start in elected public life by fighting to preserve a mobile home park. I intend to continue that commitment," Hyland said.
Penn Daw Mobile Home Park became embroiled in the Kings Crossing development debacle when JPI Development, which had hoped to transform the primary 11-plus-acre-site at the intersection of Route 1 and South Kings Highway into a mixed use development, made an offer to Robert Epps, owner of the mobile home park property. That mobile home park site would have become part of the overall Kings Crossing project with the mobile home owners receiving a compensation/relocation package.
Fearful they would become pawns in the overall project, residents of the park formed their association and lobbied both Hyland and the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations (MVCCA) to protect their interests and provide for substantial relocation compensation if the redevelopment came to fruition. That compensation became a major issue in Kings Crossing negotiations.
In November 2006, JPI abandoned the Kings Crossing project for the foreseeable future due to a number of stumbling blocks. Their contracts with Archon, the Texas based owner of the primary development site, and Epps were allowed to lapse. However, Epps has not indicated he will not sell the mobile home park land in future negotiations with another interested party.
"The real issue for the Board of Supervisors is how to preserve existing mobile home parks. We can't prevent people such as Mr. Epps from doing what they want with their property. But, we can say and do a lot about what happens to people who live in those parks," Hyland emphasized.
THAT ASSESSMENT was buttressed by Dan Burrier, one of the newly elected co-chairs of MVCCA, who assured the association members that "every group is equal in the eyes of the new co-chairs of the Council." The United Voice is a member of MVCCA represented by their president Jerry Ireland, the primary leader in founding the United Voice association several years ago.
Referring to the recent MCCA election that made a significant change in the organization's structure, Burrier said, "Although the Council is not a legislative body, it does have a great deal of influence. A number of people wanted change at the Council and we got it. We are going to be a transparent body. But, we need to know what your feelings are on subjects of interest to you."
Both Hyland and Burrier praised Ireland for his work in bringing forth the message of the mobile home park residents. "If it hadn't been for the tireless work of Jerry Ireland, the Mount Vernon Council would never have formed an Affordable Housing Committee. He is now up for consideration as a member of the Council's Planning Committee," Hyland said.
"Mobile home parks are a natural source of affordable housing. They need to be preserved and people need to be reassured that their homes won't be sold out from under them," Ireland said.
Addressing the issue of preserving and expanding mobile home sites Hyland turned to the subject of North Hills which is the center of a tug-of-war between open space preservationists and supporters of affordable housing. The site was originally purchased by the County years ago for $5 million. At that time the entire plot was "intended to be the site of a mobile home park," according to Hyland.
"There are those who want nothing done with North Hills. I can't support that. There are also those that want it all for affordable housing. That isn't right either. I think it should and can support both open space and affordable housing. I'm trying to split the baby," he said.
"I love trees and open space as much as anyone. But, if it comes to saving a tree or providing affordable housing for people, it's got to be housing," Hyland proclaimed to a round of applause from his audience.
In answer to a question as to whether the County and Board of Supervisors support affordable housing, Hyland gave an unqualified yes. "We have committed one cent of the real estate tax for the past two years to support affordable housing. That commitment will continue. Both the Board and County Executive are committed to this," he said.
"The Board doesn't need to be convinced. But, the bottom line is money and education remains the primary budget issue as I think it should be," Hyland said.
Returning to the future of Kings Crossing, Hyland said, "Everything has come to a screeching halt. It's back to the drawing board where we started. We don't know what will happen in the future. But, what ever it is you will have a seat at the table."
He did reveal that some of the possibilities included a Wegman's market or other type of big box store. "It is my understanding that several organizations are looking at the property. But, no one has approached me since JPI went on hold and all contracts have expired," he said.
"But, the only issue on the table as far as Penn Daw Mobile Home Park is concerned is that whatever happens you receive fair and equitable relocation compensation. That will happen," Hyland stated.