By Elizabeth Bonin, Staff Writer
(Sept. 12, 2019) Full-time residents of White Horse Park campground subdivision in Ocean Pines lost step one of their battle to continue living at the park year round, as the Worcester County Planning Commission last Thursday voted to give an unfavorable recommendation to a proposed zoning code amendment that would permit the practice.
Sue Naplachowski and Sally Connolly, represented by attorney Hugh Cropper, have advocated for a text amendment to allow full-time residents as of June 2018 to continue living at White Horse Park until they discontinue full-time residency, die or sell the unit. Connolly could not be present at the Planning Commission meeting.
The amendment and the commission’s unfavorable recommendation will go next to the Worcester County Commissioners, who will make the final vote.
Residents of White Horse Park reported that they received a letter in June 2018 that stated they had to abide by the seasonal occupancy regulations under which the park is supposed to operate.
Under Worcester County zoning law, White Horse Park is classified as a campground where lots may be occupied by recreational vehicles, park trailers and manufactured homes.
Residents also said Worcester County Commissioner Jim Bunting attended the White Horse annual board of directors meeting to make the announcement.
According to Naplachowski, 60 out of the 465 units are owned or rented by full-time residents. Most, if not all, residents claim they did not know they could not live in the park full time. Some report receiving a thick book about the park but claim the book did not state they could not live there full time.
Melissa Peters, the acting president of the White Horse Park board of directors, countered that assertion and said this week that every resident receives a copy of the bylaws and rules and regulations. These rules state, that the campground is to be a seasonal residence, not year-roundm , she said.
Nevertheless, Naplachowski said she has been a full-time resident in the park for over 30 years.
“It’s never been an issue. 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.”
According to Naplachowski, the White Horse board of directors would not meet with her to come up with a solution. Meanwhile, Peters said that none of the full-time residents have sought a meeting with her. She added that the board cannot change park declarations without a two-thirds majority vote from residents.
Naplachoswki said her biggest worry now is the safety and health of the full-time residents.
“We have elderly, windowed, handicapped, veterans and disabled that do live in the park and feel secure here,” Naplachowski said. “The majority of the full-timers are 70-years old and older.”
Full-time resident Roxanne Waughtel bought property in White Horse with her husband in November 2016. She said that the White Horse Park office and a real estate company said they could live there full time.
According to Waughtel, she discovered she couldn’t live at the park full time when she attended a board meeting in February 2017. Waughtel’s husband had a massive heart attack six months later.
“I feel that’s due to all the stress because he’s trying to figure out what we’re going to do because we invested everything we had into our home,” Waughtel said. “And now here I am, wondering what I’m going to do myself.”
Waughtel has no plans to move if the commissioners decide the full-timers have to move. As a result of residents’ fear, Naplachowski and Connolly decided to try and have the residents “grandfathered in.”
However, the county department of review and permitting concluded that it could not make the text amendment within zoning. Ed Tudor and Jennifer Keener, director of review and permitting and zoning administrator, reported that “grandfathering” in a regulation would not work in this case because living full time at the park was never legal. They also expressed concerns that “full-time” was never defined in the proposed amendment and that regulating full-time residents would be too difficult.
Director of Environmental Programs Bob Mitchell said the park’s equivalent dwelling units (EDUs) are allocated based on seasonal occupancy and that full-time residents would be pose a health and safety risk. To allow for full-time use, the park would need an additional 54 units for water and sewer at $15,218 per EDU.
Residents would have to take on the additional cost. They claimed that they have never had issues with utilities or overuse. Mitchell said that the issue is more complicated.
“Overuse does not have to be actual overflows and sewer main breaks,” Mitchell said. “It can also arise from the residents’ use of contracted water and sewer services that are not in compliance with the park’s service agreements and under-payment for same.”
Commissioner Jay Knerr moved to forward an unfavorable recommendation of the proposed amendment to the Worcester County Commissioners. Knerr said although he hated to see anyone displaced from his or her home, he could not endorse the amendment because of vague language, unenforceable regulations and the lack of park infrastructure.
“There’s so much anger and hatred,” Knerr said. “This community has truly been torn apart.”
Commissioner Gerard Barbierri seconded the motion, citing the same reasons as Knerr. In the meantime, Naplachowski said that she will continue gathering residents to fight for an amendment with the county commissioners. Seasonal resident Tina Miller felt that the commissioners have not been properly representing residents of White Horse.
“I’ve invested all this money,” Miller said. “And then he [Bunting] comes up with this 33-year-old unenforced law and tell us ‘You won’t be able to come down for four months or more.’”
Commissioner Jim Bunting did not respond to request for comment. Commissioner Bud Church did not respond to request for comment. Commissioner Chip Bertino declined to comment until the issue reaches the commissioner meeting.