(Dec. 27, 2019) It’s been more than a year that full-time residents of the White Horse Park campground subdivision near Ocean Pines have been fighting to maintain their residency.
Their extended campaign began in June 2018, when Worcester County Commissioner Jim Bunting attended a White Horse Park Association board meeting to insist that the community abide by the county’s seasonal zoning regulations.
Under the zoning classification applied to the subdivision, off-season residency —from Sept. 30 to April 1 — is restricted homes to 30 consecutive days or an aggregate of 60 days. But 55 of the campground’s units belong to full-time residents, most of whom said they cannot move because of age, disability or low incomes.
Attorney Hugh Cropper, along with two full-time residents, Sue Naplachowski and Sally Connolly, proposed an amendment to the zoning code that would permit these residents, but no new ones, to continuing living there.
Full-time residents said that either they did not know they could not live in the park full-time, or they were assured that they could by the sellers of the units they now occupied.
“It’s never been an issue,” Naplachowski said. “I’m pretty sure the county knew about it and the board of directors definitely knew about it, because they would always like having people here full time for the security of the park.”
Melissa Peters, the acting president of the White Horse Park board of directors, said every resident receives a copy of the bylaws and rules and regulations, which state the seasonal zoning laws.
The Worcester County Planning Commission gave the proposed amendment an unfavorable recommendation at its Sept. 5 meeting. Commission members’ issue was that the code should not grandfather in a use that was never legal. In addition, they found that the park is not equipped for full-time use and enforcing the new regulations would be nearly impossible.
The county commissioners also rejected the proposal.
Stan Gibson, a full-time resident since 1984, who is wheelchair-bound, dependent on a ventilator and has paralyzed vocal cords, expressed his disappointment in writing.
“It’s no longer about EDUs, water usage, thickness of our roads or traffic congestion we might cause,” Gibson wrote. “It’s now a human issue that hangs in the balance.”
To enforce the seasonal zoning, the county commissioners sent warning letters on Oct. 4 to all residents and the board of directors. According to the letter, those that violate occupancy regulations could receive fines up to $1,000 a day.
The White Horse Park Board of Directors said they were considering enforcement strategies, yet no resident has reported receiving a fine thus far.
The commissioners also invited residents seeking housing options to meet with representatives of the Department of Social Services, Health Department and Commission on Aging at the Ocean Pines Library. However, no residents found housing solutions.
In the meantime, there was a physical altercation between full-time resident Bob Harrison and Peters just prior to the Sept. 21 board of directors meeting at the park.
“They opened the door at 10 and I started to go through it,” Harrison said. “She [Peters] jumped in front of me and put her hands on me. As soon as she did that, I pushed her out of the way and walked in.”
Harrison filed charges against Peters two days later. Peters declined to comment on the assault.
Cropper filed five cases to the Board of Zoning Appeals on the premise that the county waited too long to enforce the zoning regulations, therefore invalidating the fines. However, Ed Tudor, director of review and permitting, rejected the appeal.
Nearly a month later, Cropper and a small group of residents retaliated by filing a suit in Worcester County Circuit Court. Two days later, they also asked the court for an injunction against any enforcement action against the residents by the county.
“You can’t not enforce a law for 33 years, allow people to rely on that, allow them to build houses, take mortgages out, sell their other properties and then decide after 33 years you’re going to enforce the law,” Cropper said.