If you were driving down Route 1, you would never know it’s there.
Tucked back next to the Auto Zone, and across the street from the Marumsco shopping center in Woodbridge, the Marumsco Mobile Home Park is home to around 66 units that will eventually be torn down by Stanley Martin – the owner of the land the park sits on.
And while that’s a story itself, there’s another thing on the residents’ minds – removing structures that were built around or on their trailers without proper approval from the county.
According to Prince William County Department of Development Services (DDS) Director Wade Hugh, the county originally got involved over the summer when they received complaints about the structures that were built illegally with no permits.
“[We] did an inspection of the mobile home park, and did find a number of structures. Anything from detached sheds, car ports, decks with coverings, additions that were built on to trailers that were constructed, that never had zoning approval or building plan approvals,” said Hugh.
When the county encountered the large number of violations on the park, they organized community meetings with park residents to speak to the problems, and issued notices for the structures that needed to be brought into compliance.
“There’s 66 or 67 mobile homes out there, and we had I think it was around 39, roughly, approximately, 39 units that had some form of a violation,” said Hugh.
But it gets more complicated
When the county did research on the property in advance of the community meeting over the summer, they realized that it was in a flood plain, which presented other problems.
“We had also been able to research that the park is located in a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) flood plain, 100-year flood plain,” said Hugh.
According to Hugh, the “flood way” is where swift water would move in a flooding situation, and where the most damage would be done. And “flood fringe” is an area between the flood way and the outer boundary, where you’ll mostly see standing water.
These distinctions mean that the illegal structures built in the trailer park pose a big problem for the county.
“There are very strict guidelines…in the flood way, you can’t construct anything. Within what we call the flood fringe, that outer area, you can construct, but there’s a lot of limitations,” said Hugh, “So even though you might say, ‘well I’ve had that shed for ten years’, it doesn’t matter, it was never permitted, so when you walk in today you have to meet current codes and current standards. Well, we can’t permit something in the flood way.”
The future of the mobile home park
Some have posed the question of why it took so long for the county to respond to the non-compliant structures.
“The county is not staffed to be proactive…our building code enforcement team is a relatively small team…we’re reactive – we respond to complaints that we receive. And we just hadn’t had any complaints down there…no one ever complained,” said Hugh.
Regardless of the legal status of the structures, their future on the site is already limited, as Stanley Martin plans to remove the trailer park at some point, to build a new development on the property.
“Their long-term plan is to come in with the rezoning, and to build some residential units down there, and ultimately those mobile homes will be taken out,” said Hugh.
There’s not a clear date when Stanley Martin will move forward with the project.
The county’s FEMA flood insurance rate could be on the line
The illegal structures in the flood plain are largely an issue because of flood insurance requirements mandated by FEMA.
Prince William County has FEMA flood insurance rates that are set county-wide.
“FEMA runs the flood insurance program. So they come into jurisdictions…[for] localities, FEMA has a program and they rate localities. And they rate localities based on their standards for construction in the flood plain,” said Hugh.
The agency meets with Prince William officials and has rated the county well, meaning that the insurance rates are lower than some other localities. But those rates could be in jeopardy if the residents of the Marumsco trailer park don’t remove the structures.
“We get very good rates that go to businesses, go to homeowners…but if all of a sudden we started allowing things that didn’t meet those standards – I don’t want to speculate, because I can’t speak for FEMA – but they could certainly look and say, ‘Wait a minute, we gave you this rating level, which allows the insurance rates to be down. However, we’re seeing you’re not complying with that, so maybe you shouldn’t have that rate,’” said Hugh.
And if FEMA were to decide to change the rates, it would be for the entire county, not just the area surrounding the trailer park.
“They don’t do it by little pockets within the county, so anything that we do that is not in compliance with our rate could impact the entire county,” said Hugh.
So, what’s next?
Many residents of the park have already cleaned up the structures, but some are still in place.
The county and several volunteer organizations like the Rotary Club and Project Mend-A-House have partnered with the residents to help bring the structures up to code, or take them down.
According to Wade, residents are responsible for the cost of removing the structures, but as the landowners, Stanley Martin has paid for the demo permits from the county and large dumpsters.
“The residents, many of them did the work themselves [removing structures],” said Hugh.
In fact, some volunteers are considering helping to replace the removed structures with ones that fall within the county statutes.
“In some cases they’re going to look to install new sheds…there’s some discussion of the volunteers raising money to go out and purchase a number…of new sheds that can be legally placed in areas that will be outside the flood plain,” said Hugh.
If the remaining residents at the park don’t become compliant, a criminal summons is possible, said Hugh.
“We work with people. The biggest thing we want is for people to be compliant, we want things to be safe – that’s the number one goal,” Hugh said.