A final summer for ocean-side RVs

Renters: With the sale of Ocean City's last campground, vacationers have to clear out by Nov. 20.

July 02, 2005|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY -- The end is coming for the last RV campground here in Maryland's beach resort, and Lee and Catherine Roberts are mourning already. It was 37 years ago that the couple from Laurel parked a trailer for the summer and began building friendships that now span three generations.

But with $800,000 condos literally looming over their modest vacation spot, they weren't surprised to learn that the owners of the Ocean City Campground have gotten an offer they can't refuse. Land is at a premium on this 10-mile sliver in the Atlantic, and more wrecking balls and construction cranes seem to turn up every day.

"This is going to be a real emotional separation," says Catherine Roberts, 66, a retired administrative assistant. "All our friends are here, all our kids grew up here in the summers, and now it's our grandchildren growing up together," Roberts says. "It's like we've all been in this wonderful little box as everything changed."

According to a notice to renters from Mid-Atlantic Shore Properties Inc., the Baltimore-based company that owns the campground at 70th Street and Coastal Highway, the firm received "an unsolicited offer" for the 2 1/2 -acre site and renters have until Nov. 20 to clear out.

"This is it in Ocean City, the only place left where a modest-income family can pull in a trailer for an affordable vacation," says Lee Roberts, 69, a retired postal worker. "It does make you wonder how families can afford the traditional summer vacation. Things are changing."

The campground, with lots for 200 trailers, dates to at least the early 1960s but is not a place stuck in time. The recreational vehicles parked here provide modern and very comfortable summer homes. But residents describe an old-fashioned sense of community.

For Bill and Pat Butler, Westminster residents who have been across-the-street summertime neighbors of the Robertses' since 1969, there was never any consideration of trading in their 35-foot trailer to join the latest condominium craze. They owned one in a high-rise a few years ago but quickly sold it.

"You can't cook out on a balcony," says Pat Butler, 73. "You can't yell for your neighbor to `Come over, I've got a pot of coffee on.' If we'd been stuck in condos, we'd never have been such good friends."

The Butler and Roberts families are among 27 campground renters who have bought lots at a similar recreational vehicle park just a few miles across Assawoman Bay. They'd all rather stay at the beach, but owning, rather than renting their lots, should keep the group together.

"We're keeping our friendships, our sense of community -- that's what it's all about," says Catherine Roberts, who spent her working years at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Columbia.

The company that owns the Ocean City Campground, which operates other camps in Maryland and Delaware and a marina on Kent Island, has not disclosed the buyer or a sales price. Richard Berman, whose family owns the company, could not be reached yesterday.

The pace of development in recent years has some longtime Ocean City residents worrying about protecting the resort's image as a family vacation spot, a beach destination for the middle class that annually draws 8 million tourists.

Vince Gisriel, a former town councilman who lost a bid for mayor last year, based his campaign on a slow-growth platform he believes could still help the resort remain affordable.

"I think it's a sad day when what some people say is inevitable here seems to be working against the blue-collar tourists who built this town," Gisriel says. "There's no question that the character of the town has changed dramatically. I think we need to keep something of a charming seaside village instead of a metropolis by the ocean."

Former Mayor Roland E. "Fish" Powell, thinks some of that concern is exaggerated. The Ocean City native, 76, sold his beach home to a developer last year and moved a few miles to West Ocean City. He says the 130-year-old resort has evolved over the decades as "the old makes way for the new."

"When I was young, the hotels weren't as big and they were certainly less swanky, but more units means more people coming here," Powell says. "Yes, it was blue-collar people from Baltimore, Pennsylvania who made this town. But who would ever have thought you could sell a condo for $600,000?"

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