(Dec. 6, 2019) Worcester County has yet to take any enforcement action against the full-time residents of White Horse Park after county officials declared they were occupying their residences in violation of the zoning ordinance regulating seasonal districts.
According to Susan Naplachowski, who is a plaintiff in the appeal and lawsuit challenging the county’s position, no full-time residents of the campground subdivision have received a fine.
Residents received letters from county government on Oct. 1 warning them of fines of up to $1,000 if they violated the seasonal zoning regulation. The zoning law applicable to that subdivision states that residents may only occupy their properties for 30 consecutive days, or an aggregate of 60 days, between Sept. 30 and April 1. Residents may occupy the property in the other months. Yet, the full-time residents claim that they were either never informed of the seasonal zoning or were told that they could live there full-time anyway.
Naplachowski added that she has seen no evidence that the board of directors for the park are tracking who is living there full-time, though she did acknowledge the possibility that they could be doing so at night.
In October, board members said they were considering the following enforcement strategies: new gate management software to monitor outgoing and incoming traffic, a security company to inspect occupancy and a revised covenant to allow board members to issue fines to owners in occupancy violation.
“It’s like elderly abuse,” Naplachowski said. She reiterated that the full-time residents, many of whom are disabled, veterans or low-income, are living in fear of losing their home.
After the Worcester County Commissioners rejected a proposed zoning amendment that would have allowed the current full-time residents to be grandfathered in, the commissioners offered a meeting with the Department of Social Services, Health Department and Commission on Aging to help residents find housing.
However, Naplachowski reported that Robert Hart, executive director of the Commission on Aging, told the commissioners that there was nothing he could do for the full-time residents seeking alternative housing assistance.
Ed Tudor, director of review and permitting, rejected attorney Hugh Cropper’s appeal to the commissioner’s decision, saying that enforcement action had not been taken and that it is the county commissioners that would take action, not the department of review and permitting.
Cropper took the next step on Nov. 19 by appealing to the Worcester County Circuit. The suit asks for declaratory judgement and other relief. If the circuit court overturns Tudor’s decision, the appeal will go to the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals for review. The declaratory judgement asks for the judge to stop the county from fining residents.
Cropper’s argument contends that park residents were required to keep their homes up to code like any other permanent, year-round home and to pay taxes consistent with full-time occupancy.
“Now, after failing to enforce the code for nearly 33 years, and after requiring residents to replace units with code-compliant year-round single family homes, the Worcester County Commissioners seek to enforce the previously ignored provisions of the county code, and threaten to fine the permanent or year-round residents for their occupancy,” the statement reads.
The main argument for the declaratory judgement is that the county has waited too long to enforce the zoning law.