BERLIN – Elderly residents of White Horse Park say they’ve been living in fear and uncertainty since county officials advised them they weren’t allowed to live in the community year-round.
Many full-time residents of White Horse Park say they had no idea they couldn’t live in their units until last July, when Worcester County Commissioner Jim Bunting attended the park’s annual meeting to advise them they were in violation of the county’s regulations.
“I don’t sleep at night thinking about this,” resident Ginny Wycoff said. “You work all your life for your retirement. You think you have a plan in place and just like that it’s all taken away.”
Wycoff is among the 54 year-round residents of White Horse Park who are hoping to have the county’s zoning code amended to allow for up to 25% of the park to be inhabited year-round by residents over the age of 55.
“Just legalize what’s been going on for 30 years,” resident Karen Boon said.
According to Susan Naplachowski, the year-round resident spearheading the effort to amend the code, there have always been some people who have lived full-time at White Horse Park. She herself spent five years as park manager and three years as a member of the park’s board while living in the community full-time. She said she hadn’t been aware of the zoning regulation concerning campground subdivisions until it was cited by Bunting. According to the county’s zoning code, “Units or sites in a campground subdivision shall be occupied on a seasonal basis and shall not be occupied as a place of primary residence or domicile.” It goes on to state that units shall not be occupied for more than 30 consecutive days between Sept. 30 and April 1.
Naplachowski says that’s not the language that’s been distributed to homebuyers who have purchased property in White Horse Park. The declaration of restrictions for the park states “Campsites shall be occupied only on a seasonal basis and it shall be unlawful for any person to continually occupy any such campsite or unit for more than 90 consecutive days in a 180-day period.”
While some homeowners admit they didn’t read through the declaration of restrictions until after they’d purchased their property, those who did said they didn’t see language outlawing full-time occupancy.
“We asked our Realtor and she said all you have to do is leave for one day every 90 days,” said Jon Gilmore, who purchased property in the park in 2016. “That’s reflected in the declaration we got.”
He added that the agent had even told him that she’d lived in the park in the past.
“We knew some of the board members were living here,” he said. “It was the culture. It was never being questioned.”
Wycoff, who bought in the park in 1999, decided to replace her trailer with a modular home in 2015. She worked with county officials throughout the permitting and construction process.
“Obviously they knew we were living here,” she said.
Stan Gibson bought his White Horse Park home in 1984. Gibson, 63, is wheelchair bound, uses a feeding tube and sleeps with a ventilator. His home has been modified in various ways with the help of county, state and federal funding. He said that even if he had the money, he couldn’t find another home with the modifications he needs.
Bob Raymond and his wife bought property in the park in 2001. As they considered replacing the existing trailer with a cottage, Raymond recalls asking a board member if the seasonal nature of the park would prohibit them from staying in the cottage year-round. The man assured Raymond he lived year-round in the park himself.
“He showed me his driver’s license,” Raymond recalls.
Though he and his wife wintered in Florida for many years, they’re no longer healthy enough to make the trip.
“I’m 85,” he said. “I’m a cancer survivor with a bad heart and one eye. We need our home here.”
Naplachowski said unlike some communities, when a person buys into White Horse Park they own the house and the land it sits on. In addition to paying the regular county taxes, they pay a quarterly fee to White Horse Park.
Naplachowski and her fellow year-round residents say that while homes in the 465-lot community used to sell quickly, turnover has been slow since last summer. She said real estate agents are now specifically advising buyers that the park is seasonal and not meant to be lived in during the offseason. There are currently more than two dozen properties at White Horse Park for sale. They range in price from $54,900 to $168,900.
Danielle Stallings says she’s had her White Horse Park property on the market for nine months. Stallings, who lives in the park with her two brothers—one has cancer and one has dementia—actually rented a place in Ocean Pines and moved out when she found out the county wanted to make sure people weren’t living in the park fulltime. She says she’s only just now received an offer for her park property but it’s for $50,000 less than it’s appraised for.
“We can’t afford to buy anything else,” she said.
Boon said she can’t even make a plan for the future because the county hasn’t decided how it’s going to enforce the seasonal campground regulations. A letter the park received from county officials said the procedure had not been formally adopted but could include a civil fine, registered letter of violation to include penalty, eviction notice or court process.
Her hopes, and those of the other residents working with attorney Hugh Cropper, are on the text amendment that’s been presented to the Worcester County Planning Commission. The issue is expected to be on the agenda for the commission’s July 3 meeting. Once the commission reviews the amendment, it will be forwarded to the Worcester County Commissioners for consideration. While Bunting has said he will consider the amendment with an open mind, some residents of White Horse Park have voiced objections. County staff have also expressed concerns with what’s proposed. County officials say it would be difficult to enforce and stress that White Horse Park was created as a campground.
“They are not now nor were they ever designed or intended for year-round occupancy by anyone, regardless of age or any other factor,” Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor wrote in a report to the planning commission.
He went on to cite concerns about the impact year-round occupancy would have on infrastructure such as roads as well as water and sewer.