After BZA Rejects Concerns, White Horse Park Residents Headed To Court

After BZA Rejects Concerns, White Horse Park Residents Headed To Court
The entrance to White Horse Park is pictured. File photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL – County officials have rejected the applications made to the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals regarding White Horse Park.

On Wednesday, Ed Tudor, the county’s director of development review and permitting, returned the five applications made by attorney Hugh Cropper to the board of zoning appeals regarding enforcement actions at White Horse Park.

“The code has very specific requirements on what is appealable,” Tudor said.

Cropper, however, disagrees with Tudor’s interpretation of the code and believes he’s relying on technicalities.

“It is my position that Worcester County has left my clients with no choice but to seek protection from the courts,” Cropper said Wednesday.

Cropper, who represents the group of White Horse Park property owners fighting the community’s year-round residency restrictions, submitted the appeals after residents received letters from the Worcester County Commissioners outlining an enforcement plan to ensure they didn’t stay in the park year-round. The letters described how the county would begin issuing citations and fines to those who don’t obey the park’s seasonal residency restrictions, which state that between Sept. 30 and April 1 units shall not be occupied for more than 30 consecutive days or an aggregate of 60 days. Fines would start at $100 and would escalate from there. The park’s security agency is now taking pictures of the license plates of each vehicle that enters the park to monitor who is there, according to Cropper.

He said he made the applications to the board of zoning appeals on the basis that the county’s plan to fine property owners who failed to abide by occupancy restrictions came too late, as county officials were aware people had been living in the community year-round for decades.

In returning the applications this week, Tudor said the primary issue with the them was the fact that they appealed his department’s enforcement actions based on a letter from the commissioners. He said the subject letter took no enforcement action in and of itself and did not even come from his department.

“The letter was from the county commissioners, not from the department, therefore there are no actions of the department to appeal,” he said, adding that the letter itself was not a fine. “The letter was just a letter warning what could happen.”

Cropper says that’s an artificial distinction. He believes there’s no substantive difference in the fact that the letter came from the commissioners rather than the zoning department.

“The department exists because of the commissioners — it’s an arm of the county commissioners,” he said, adding that the fines would be coming from the department.

Regarding the fact that the fines haven’t actually been issued yet, Cropper said he felt the letter from the commissioners constituted an enforcement action.

“There’s no reasonable person that would read that letter and say that’s not an enforcement action,” he said. “It was very specific as to the fines.”

Nevertheless, Cropper said he wasn’t surprised by the county’s decision. He said he’d been obligated to try to go to the board of zoning appeals to show that he’d exhausted administrative remedies before going to court.

The county’s rejection of Cropper’s applications to the board of zoning appeals is the latest action in a situation dating back to 2018. It was then park property owners were advised its designation as a campground subdivision prohibited people from living there year-round. As a result, a group of about 50 permanent residents of the park, many of them elderly, spent months working with Cropper on a way to change the code to allow them to stay. Two weeks after their most recent attempt at a text amendment was rejected by the commissioners, they received the letters outlining the fines they’ll be facing if they try to remain in White Horse Park this winter.

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.