SNOW HILL – The future remains unclear for permanent residents of White Horse Park as they continue their efforts to change county regulations.
The Worcester County Planning Commission last week gave an unfavorable recommendation to a text amendment that would allow existing permanent residents of White Horse Park to stay year-round. The Worcester County Commissioners, however, will have the final say on the proposed amendment in the coming weeks. In the meantime, permanent residents of the park are waiting to see if they’ll have to vacate their homes Oct. 1.
“They’re in a desperate situation,” attorney Hugh Cropper said.
Cropper represents a group of full-time White Horse Park residents who are fighting to remain in the park. In the spring, he presented a text amendment on behalf of 54 White Horse Park residents seeking to have the county’s zoning code changed so that up to 25% of the park could be inhabited year-round by residents over the age of 55. Because of concerns from county staff, Cropper and the residents he’s representing revised the text amendment so that instead of a percentage, it would allow only existing year-round residents to be grandfathered in.
The group of residents, headed by Sue Naplachowski and Sally Connolly, hired Cropper after the county began efforts to enforce the existing restrictions on campground subdivisions. The county has two such developments, White Horse Park and Assateague Pointe, and according to regulations they are not to be inhabited year-round.
Cropper’s clients, however, say that a small percentage of White Horse Park property owners have lived in the 465-unit community year-round for decades and were never advised it was a problem until 2018.
“It’s been going on for 30 years,” resident Betty Michalak said. “The county knew people were living here.”
Karen Boon agreed. She said that during the last 10 years, various park managers have lived in the park, as have close to 20 board members.
“It was the culture of this park,” resident Sandy Morgan said, adding that no one made an effort to hide the fact.
The fulltime residents, many of whom are seniors, simply want to be able to stay in their homes. They say they can’t afford to find lodging for the winter and maintain their White Horse Park properties. Those who are willing to sell their homes are worried they’ll have to sell them for less than they’re worth if they have to list them now.
“It’s a catch 22,” Boon said. “You can’t get out if you wanted to.”
The text amendment Cropper will present to the commissioners on behalf of the residents aims to allow those who have lived in the park since June 2018 to be considered grandfathered and allowed to remain as legally existing nonconformities. The amendment received an unfavorable recommendation by the Worcester County Planning Commission after staff expressed concerns. Officials within the county’s department of development review and permitting said the language of the amendment was vague and that they thought it could be difficult to track the residents who would be grandfathered. Ed Tudor, director of the department, also said the residents couldn’t truly be grandfathered in.
“Mr. Tudor puts it succinctly by saying that in order for something to be a nonconformity, it must have been legal at some point in the first place and year-round occupancy of units in White Horse Park has never been a legal use,” wrote Phyllis Wimbrow, deputy director of the department, in a report to the planning commission.
The other primary staff concern came from Environmental Programs Director Bob Mitchell. He advised that year-round occupancy would require the acquisition of additional sanitary capacity to handle the community’s water and sewer needs. According to Mitchell an additional 54 EDUs (equivalent dwelling units) would cost more than $800,000.
At last week’s meeting with the planning commission, Cropper disputed that figure and said he believed it was more than the community needed. Commission members, however, said they also believed the language was unenforceable.
“I hate to see anybody displaced from their home,” said commission member Jay Knerr. “This is truly an awful situation that has torn the community apart. Given the language in the proposed text amendment I can’t endorse it for the simple reason that it’s not enforceable. The language is somewhat vague.”
Mike Diffendal, chair of the commission, agreed.
“This is an unfortunate situation,” he said. “We’re all kind of in a bad spot.”
The commission went on to vote unanimously to send an unfavorable recommendation with the amendment as it moves on to the county commissioners for consideration.
Naplachowski said her group wasn’t surprised by the result of last week’s meeting and had known all along the commissioners would be tasked with making the final decision on the proposal. She’s hopeful the elected officials will listen to input they’ve received from voters throughout the county. Connolly said hundreds of emails have been sent from citizens throughout Worcester County who don’t want to see White Horse Park residents forced to leave.
Opponents, however, have also submitted letters to the county. An anonymous letter sent Aug. 4 cites that fact that property owners in the park should have known they couldn’t live there because it was written in park documents. The letter says excuses such as someone not being able to afford to move shouldn’t matter.
“These same people ‘own’ their own homes so they can find another place to live, it’s called sell your home and look into low income housing—not turn our community into low income housing,” the letter reads.
Others believe that if these property owners get to live in White Horse Park full-time, they should too.
“I am against the text amendment and the grandfathering schemes they are trying to use to get their way,” an anonymous letter submitted Aug. 21 reads. “I like using my unit year-round and don’t want to see the park closed for the winter, however, if it comes downs to it, if I can’t have the option to live there full time, then I don’t want them to either.”
Still others have objected to the impact of additional EDU fees if any full-time occupancy is permitted.
Naplachowski maintains that additional EDUs aren’t needed. She says that even when the community is at full capacity during the height of summer it has sufficient sewer capacity. She also believes that year-round residents provide the park with a valuable service, as those who are on site during the winter address things like leaking pipes and suspicious visitors.
“Full-timers discourage theft and criminal activity,” Connolly said. “Part-time owners recognize and appreciate that.”
That’s just part of the reason several part-timers have written to the county in support of Cropper’s clients.
“It’s just the right thing to do for a neighbor,” part-time resident Brian Miller said. “People on the outside need to know what’s going on.”
Part-time resident Linda Underwood agreed. She pointed out that the rules outlawing full-time occupancy of White Horse Park had never been enforced.
“Now they want to force these residents off of their property and out of the only home that they own,” she said.
She added that White Horse Park property owners paid same tax and assessment rate other Worcester County homeowners did. That’s in spite of the fact that the community cares for its own streets and much of its infrastructure.
“This is a cash cow for Worcester County,” resident Ned Gobrecht said. “They take our tax money and don’t spend anything on us.”
He and his fellow residents say they don’t understand why there’s now a problem with a situation that’s existed for years.
“They’ve allowed people to stay here over 35 years,” Michalak said. “Why is it a big deal now?”