Housing Community Braces for RV Invasion

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March 21, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

The newest battle for Delaware's manufactured-home residents isn't over rent hikes or land sales — it's about tourists.

A group of Long Neck-area residents is fighting a plan to put more than 360 RV camper sites in the middle of their manufactured-home community, saying it would bring crime, increase traffic and make it impossible for them to sell their homes, the News Journal reported.

"We didn't retire to live in an RV park," said Barbara Duff, a homeowner in Rehoboth Shores, where residents own their homes but lease the land from the park owner.

Lining up against them are several park landowners, as well as Delaware's tourism office.

They say it would add much-needed RV space — with area campgrounds packed during the summer — in an economy in which manufactured homes are no longer selling like they used to.

The proposal by Rehoboth Shores' owner would replace 260 manufactured-home lots — already approved but undeveloped — with 367 campground sites. The plan is now pending before Sussex County officials.

Though it will not displace anyone, the project has attracted intense interest from surrounding communities in Long Neck, an unincorporated finger of land that has exploded with development in recent years and is home to many land-lease manufactured-home parks. About 400 people from Rehoboth Shores and neighboring areas have signed a petition against the project.

Duff says residents in other parks are afraid that if Rehoboth Shores gets approval to add a campground, other landowners will seek permission to do the same.

"They're just sitting, waiting in fear that this is going to happen … they think their park could be next, if we set a precedent," said Duff, treasurer of the homeowners' association.

The developer contends the change is necessary because of declining manufactured-home sales in recent years, and it needs to put the 51 undeveloped acres to other use.

"The mobile-home sales market in Sussex County has gone completely flat," said David Podlaseck, manager at Rehoboth Shores. "There aren't a lot of lenders out there who are lending to new mobile-home owners on rented property. … As it stands now, it's empty lots, and we see no way of filling those lots up." Of the 494 lots now at Rehoboth Shores, 80 are vacant, he said.

Podlaseck said more people are gravitating toward stick-built homes, noting that in the current market, a buyer could get a $175,000 stick-built home by making almost the same monthly payments — less than $100 more — than the owner of a standard mobile home.

The state tourism office endorsed the plan in October, with Director Linda Parkowski writing that it would attract in- and out-of-state campers and provide a boost to the economy.

Ed Speraw, president of the Delaware Manufactured Homeowners Association, lives in Rehoboth Shores and is concerned about traffic and security, questioning the landowner's plan to put a 50-foot planted buffer and fencing around the RV campground.

"A split-rail fence is not security," Speraw said.

Rehoboth Shores attorney Gene Bayard said the fencing could be upgraded if warranted.

The site would focus on seasonal RV campers, with the expectation that many RVs would stay on site year-round, versus transient travelers, Podlaseck said.

But residents also challenge the determination by state transportation officials that the 367 RV sites would generate less traffic than if the 260 home lots were built, saying that roads in the area are heavily clogged now.

"I've lived down there for seven years, and I hate it in the summer," said Vikki Rollison, a Rehoboth Shores resident. "You try to get to work, and it's horrible."

Project representatives said the traffic ruling was made because the Department of Transportation examines average annual daily traffic, not just peak seasonal travel. With no one living in the campground five months out of the year, that volume will indeed be lower than what could come if 260 homes were put on the site, they said.

"A lot of those campsites will be vacant during the week. A lot of people just come during the weekends," added project engineer Byron Jefferson.

Podlaseck said campgrounds and manufactured-home communities co-exist in other areas, including Tall Pines near Lewes, owned by the owner of Rehoboth Shores, and Leisure Point, also on Long Neck Road.

But residents noted that people living in those communities knew who their neighbors were going to be when they purchased there. Pat Weyl, who owns a home in the neighboring Bay City community, said the proposal is not fair to existing homeowners, such as her aunt, who lives in Rehoboth Shores.

"Many of the residents have invested their life savings in these homes," she said.

The Sussex County planning and zoning commission has not yet delivered its recommendation on the proposal, but is set to discuss it again Thursday. The County Council, which has the final say, will hold a public hearing Tuesday.

Duff, 73, who retired from Aberdeen, Md., a decade ago, said the biggest issue for her is that homeowners will be effectively trapped if the campground comes in.

"We didn't sign leases knowing that we were going to have campers going in on weekends. Nobody wants to come into this park now, and if RVs come in there, we're never going to sell our homes," she said. "We're stuck. We can't afford to buy a lot."

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