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No Solution Near in New Jersey Park Model Dispute

October 26, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

Each fall, a neighborhood in Woodbine, N.J., that is already quiet by shore standards becomes a wooded frontier outpost in the Pine Barrens: Only about 50 of the campground’s 238 park-model trailers remain occupied past the summer.

The trailers at Carol Lynn Resorts sit so close together, campers know when their neighbors need to replace the batteries in their smoke detectors, according to the Press of Atlantic City.

Grandparents allow their children to play freely, without fear of traffic or strangers.

And tenants say they look out for each another, especially in the winter when burglars pose a threat to Cape May County’s deserted campgrounds.

“It’s a nice area. There’s no trouble here. No riffraff, no graffiti,” Darren Kirsch said.

But this fall, the quiet has been disrupted. Most people cleared out to warmer climes after Labor Day; but some campers who stayed worry they will lose their year-round refuge from the world.

First, an inscrutable decree last year from the state Department of Community Affairs about how tenants may have to find second homes each winter due to electrical subcodes. At the end of this past summer, a lawmaker intervened, and the state agreed to grandfather in tenants and allow them to occupy the campground year-round.

Then, campground owners Anthony and Carol Saduk sent tenants a letter Sept. 29, asking them to decide whether they want to stay through the winter – and pay year-round maintenance fees – or leave by Nov. 1 and pay seasonal maintenance fees. Tenants have never been asked to make that decision before.

The letter also reminds campers that the borough requires that they leave their park-model trailers for at least nine days per month between November and April. Nobody in Woodbine, including the owners and the borough government, has ever enforced that provision.

And the campers who feared eviction over the summer did not seem particularly concerned about the rule – until now. Tenants now say the letter contains an implicit threat of eviction.

“Failure to comply with the campground rules and regulations may result in permanent revocation of year-round camper status,” the letter says.

The campground also will not let trailer owners transfer their year-round permits when they sell. That could hurt the trailers’ resale values, said Kirsch, president of the newly formed campground association.

“Year-round leases will become seasonal and can’t be reassigned. That’s not what I signed,” Kirsch said.

Campers own their trailers and have 99-year leases on their land. They pay annual property taxes and share a common bath house, pool and laundry.

The letter notes that overuse of campground sites “has become a problem and has burdened the infrastructure; water supply and well pumps, septic and electrical systems, roads, bath houses and the pool.”

Seeking counsel

The campground association sought help from South Jersey Legal Services, a nonprofit law firm, which asked the council for the changes.

“These residents in Carol Lynn have the same rights as residents in any other mobile-home park,” lawyer David Podell said. “They can challenge unreasonable changes to the leases or rules or regulations.”

The group is asking the six-member Borough Council, on which Anthony Saduk sits, to amend the local ordinance to allow year-round residency without restriction at its campgrounds.

While no official action has been taken, the council has asked its solicitor to draft a proposal allowing year-round residency on the campground.

“We just want our rights protected,” tenant Nick Giordano said. “Once the owners said it was over state Department of Community Affairs compliance. Now they’re saying we’re taxing the infrastructure.”

The appeal

Perhaps the biggest attraction of Cape May County’s seasonal campgrounds is their affordability. The trailers offer the same amenities as much pricier condominiums – one or two bedrooms, full kitchens and baths and Florida rooms that double the living space.

“It’s affordable. The kids can ride their bikes in the woods, and in 15 minutes they can be in Sea Isle City,” Carol Saduk said. “That’s our target audience – people who want to be close to the beach.”

Len Day had his grandson’s bicycle in the back of his weathered truck, its paint eaten through, he joked, by gypsy moths.

“I take my grandkids fishing. We go to Lake Nummy at Belleplain or Pickle Pond in Eldora,” Day said. “They have a blast.”

The rebuttal

Woodbine would become only the second town in New Jersey to allow year-round occupancy at its campgrounds, said Jay Otto, president of the New Jersey Campground Owners Association based in Middle Township. The first is Buena, he said.

But even if the borough changes campground residency rules, the campground has no plans of converting to a mobile-home park, Carol Saduk said.

“I want to be in the campground business. My feeling is this change in ordinance wants me to become a low-cost housing project. I don’t think that’s fair,” she said.

If Carol Lynn Resorts and the couple’s newer, neighboring campground ever did convert, they would add as many as 700 additional residents to the borough. The borough would have to pay for services such as trash collection, which the campground now provides, she said.

And unlike the campground, which has specific rules forbidding tenants from sending any children to local schools, a mobile-home park would have no such restrictions.

“If they’re able to call themselves residents, they can demand the same services as any residents, even though they’re only paying about $350 per year in property taxes,” she said. “I’m not going to have the burden of providing services. Great, but I don’t want to see my taxes double, which could easily happen.”

Likewise, the Campground Owners Association opposes the proposed year-round status because of the possible tax impact that change would have, particularly on school districts.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” Otto said. “What’s going to prevent people there from sending their children to school?”

As a condition of the lease, children are not allowed to live at the campground.

‘I’m contented’

Not all tenants are alarmed by the owners’ request that tenants acknowledge the rules.

“All they want you to do is pay your taxes and maintenance fees and keep up your property,” Pat Armstrong said. “These are bellyachers.”

Day agreed, adding that maintenance fees at the family-owned campground are reasonable compared to those owned by corporations.

“The Saduks are business people. But they’re not greedy,” he said.

But the dispute shows no sign of resolution anytime soon. But some people are hoping it will blow over like a coastal storm.

“I just want it to be like it was before,” Armstrong said. “I’m never leaving. I’m contented here.”

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