Park Residents Weighing Next Steps After County’s Decision

Park Residents Weighing Next Steps After County’s Decision
The entrance to White Horse Park campground is pictured. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN –  White Horse Park residents say they haven’t given up their fight to continue living full-time in the community.

Though the Worcester County Commissioners last week rejected a text amendment that would have allowed the park’s existing full-time residents to remain there, those residents say they’re still working to find a way to stay in their homes. Sue Naplachowski, who helped organize the text amendment effort, is working with attorney Hugh Cropper to explore potential legal action.

“Our voices just aren’t being heard,” she said.

Last Tuesday, the commissioners voted 5-1 to reject a text amendment that would have allowed existing permanent residents of White Horse Park to stay there year-round. Though the park is a campground subdivision and is not meant to be occupied year-round, restrictions were never enforced and some people, most of them elderly, have lived there for years. Cropper said he’d been approached by countless people in the week since the commissioners’ decision.

“In 31 years I have never handled a case where I’ve had so many people tell me what Worcester County is doing is wrong,” Cropper said.

He’s spent the past year working with Naplachoswki and the roughly 50 residents who want to continue living in their White Horse Park homes. Naplachowski hired Cropper after the county began efforts to enforce the regulations on campground subdivisions in 2018. She says a small percentage of the community’s 465 lots have served as people’s permanent residences for decades. Nevertheless, in 2018 the county began efforts to enforce the regulations governing White Horse Park and Assateague Pointe, which state that between Sept. 30 and April 1 units cannot be occupied for more than 30 consecutive days or an aggregate of 60 days.

Naplachowski says most of the park’s permanent residents can’t afford to find another place to live each winter. Most are elderly and some are dealing with significant health issues. Stan Gibson, the creator of the charitable Stanstock Music Festival, has owned his home in the park since 1984. As he’s dealt with declining health — he’s now wheelchair bound, uses a feeding tube and sleeps with a ventilator — he’s been able to use county, state and federal funding to modify his home so that he can continue to live independently rather than in an institution.

“Stan’s always so positive,” neighbor Sandy Gilmore said. “But he said to me this morning ‘I don’t know where I’ll be this winter.’”

Gilmore’s husband Jon said much of his frustration with the entire situation comes from the lack of feeling that’s been shown by White Horse Park’s board of directors. Permanent residents say they’ve tried to meet with board members, many of whom were just elected, and haven’t been able to.

“The board doesn’t seem to extend any compassion,” he said.

Melissa Peters, president of the board, did not return a call for comment.

Commissioner Chip Bertino, however, said that he joined Commissioners Jim Bunting and Diana Purnell, along with Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins, to meet with the board last Friday.

“I think it went well,” Bertino said, praising the current board for its commitment to take action. “The White Horse Park board all were pleased with the decision of the commissioners and are looking forward to moving ahead with plans to ensure the park comes into compliance.”

Bunting agreed that the board was “100% committed” to enforcing the occupancy restrictions. He said at the same time, the county was developing a plan for enforcement actions as well.

“The commissioners and staff are in the process of formulating a plan to bring the campground into compliance with the longstanding provisions of the county law, which allows only seasonal occupancy in campground subdivisions,” said Kim Moses, the county’s public information officer.

She said residents had not been ordered to leave. The zoning code, however, states that between Sept. 30 and April 1, units can’t be occupied for more than 30 consecutive days or an aggregate of 60 days.

“Therefore, for example, owners may occupy their units from Oct. 1 through Oct. 30 without violation, but must vacate their units thereafter and may only return for a total of 30 days over the next five months between Oct. 31 and March 31,” she said.

Though there have been rumors the park could be closed completely in the winter months, Bunting said that is not what he wants to see happen.

“Right now I have no intentions of closing the park for four months,” he said. “Assateague Pointe is doing what’s right. What you do to White Horse Park you have to do to Assateague Pointe.”

He compared the occupancy situation to any other zoning violation. He said if a person built something illegally on their property and it took the county 20 years to realize it, that didn’t mean the homeowner had the right to complain when the county did find it.

“It’s not politics,” he said. “It’s just doing what’s right.”

Naplachowski, however, maintains that the permanent residents of the park are being punished for a situation that was created by a variety of factors. She said the park’s board had allowed — and even promoted — full-time occupancy for years. She said the county’s department of development review and permitting had approved countless modular homes in the community in recent years.

“If they wanted to keep this seasonal they should have kept just the park models,” she said.

She added that over the years Realtors had misled buyers into thinking they could live in the community full-time. She acknowledged that the residents themselves were also at fault for not reading the regulations that outlawed full-time living in the community but said they weren’t the only ones to blame for the current situation.

Naplachowski said the amendment, the commissioners rejected, which would have only allowed those who had lived in the park since June of 2018 to continue to do so until they died or moved, would have put an end to the turmoil.

“The text amendment was the best compromise,” she said.

Nevertheless, she’s hopeful something else can be done to allow residents to stay in their homes.

“Commissioner Bunting says he’s had enough,” she said. “We haven’t.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.