(May 10, 2019) County planning officials requested more time last week to review a proposed zoning amendment that would provide legal protections for several dozen year-round residents at White Horse Park Campground.
Current zoning at the site limits offseason occupancy, and many of the residents are senior citizens on fixed incomes without alternative housing options.
Last June, campground property owners received a letter from the White Horse Park Community Association, located on Beauchamp Road just north of Ocean Pines, highlighting regulations restricting full-time occupancy between the end of September and the following April.
Worcester County limits offseason occupancy for campground subdivisions to a maximum of 30 consecutive days or an aggregate total of 60 days.
Attorney Hugh Cropper, accompanied by a group of residents from the park, presented the text amendment during the Worcester County Planning Commission meeting last Thursday.
Citing a glaring need for affordable housing in Worcester County, Cropper, who initially declined to represent concerned community members, reversed course after realizing the need was legitimate.
“I got down to the nitty gritty and saw the human side of it,” he said. “It’s a hardship for people to relocate in the winter months.”
The initial draft of the amendment would revise campground subdivision occupancy restrictions to permit year-round residency in up to 25 percent of units for persons at least 55 years of age.
“There is a real need for affordable housing in this community,” he said. “These folks need a place to live.”
Cropper said the rules revision would affect only two campgrounds in Worcester County, White Horse Park and Assateague Pointe.
“It would apply to all Worcester County campgrounds, but few exist, and new ones are prohibited,” he said. “It’s not a floodgate and it’s not a dangerous precedent.”
Of several campgrounds located in Worcester, Cropper noted Frontier Town, Fort Whaley and Castaways are rental facilities, while RV Parks such as Island Resort and Bahi Hi are co-ops.
Cropper said White Horse Park, which is zoned A2 (agriculture district), opened in the early 1980s and was originally provided water and wastewater service through Maryland Marine Utilities in Ocean Pines until the Worcester County Sanitary Commission took the reins in 1993, at which time offseason occupancy restrictions were established.
Under the proposed amendments’ 25 percent allowance, about 116 of the 465 lots in White Horse Park could qualify for-full time occupancy, Cropper said.
Only marginally larger, Assateague Pointe, which contains 529 campsites, would qualify for 132 year-round locations.
“That’s it for the county, they’ll never be more,” he said.
Cropper said a draft of the amendment requires campground property owners to apply for a special exception from the Board of Zoning Appeals, which could be occupant-specific and non-transferrable, while also noting the age restriction could be eliminated.
“It’s under the continuing jurisdiction of the zoning board,” he said.
White Horse Park resident Bob Raymond, a year-round campground resident since 2004, conjectured there were even more full-time inhabitants at that point, with current estimates varying between 30-50 people.
“We had heard there was originally a restriction, but nobody knew if it was ever in effect,” he said.
Raymond said prior to having a small home constructed in White Horse Park, after initially purchasing property in 2001, the builder provided assurances year-round residency was commonplace.
Raymond said since receiving notification last June regarding wintertime restrictions, an alternative cold weather refuge has yet to become apparent.
“We’re not going to sleep on a park bench [but] we have no place to go,” he said.
Following initial conversations in January, Worcester County Director of Environmental Programs Bob Mitchell, said the seemingly reasonable request could have unintended detrimental consequences for the community and utility services.
Mitchell raised a number of issues in a letter before last week’s meeting, including acquiring appropriate sanitary capacities to accommodate year-round residents, likely from the Ocean Pines Sanitary Service Area, while also noting the increased flow rate could result in sewer overflows.
Cropper said among roadblocks to building a major subdivision with affordable housing in Worcester County are costs related to water and wastewater, as well as extensive permitting requirements.
“It cost almost $28,000 just to connect to the sewer,” he said. “There is no way you can do all that and come out with affordable housing.”
Regardless of seeming consensus among those in attendance, Planning Commission Chairman Mike Diffendal inquired if anyone present opposed the text amendment, which received an affirmative from a representative with the Assateague Pointe HOA, who noted potential loss of property value and increased need for services were primary concerns.
The topic will be discussed at the next Assateague Pointe HOA meeting on May 25.
Phyllis Wimbrow, deputy director of planning, noted the topic has been delved into previously without reaching a resolution.
“We’ve been dealing with White Horse property year-round occupants for years,” she said.
Wimbrow also wondered if the offseason occupancy restrictions were included in the HOA documents signed by purchasers after closing on property, which County Attorney Maureen Howarth subsequently confirmed.
“This is not a personal attack on these people,” she said. “I believe we need affordable housing, but retrofitting existing campgrounds is not the way to go.”
Diffendal suggested the matter be tabled until the next meeting, which was agreed to unanimously, to allow further time to review.
“We need more information to make the right decision,” he said. “We’re not trying to delay, we’re trying to do it right.”