Politics & Government

55-and-up age restriction challenged in Wash. town

This Southwest Washington community has long been reserved for 55-and-older retirees, but recent rulings by a federal court judge have imperiled that status - and worsened tensions in the tiny, unincorporated town.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma ruled in June that Ryderwood has violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against families with young children, and this month he issued an injunction ordering Ryderwood to stop enforcing the age restriction and to stop advertising itself as a 55-and-older community.

The Daily News of Longview reports that the rulings have contributed to a worsening rift in the 270-home town, located at the end of State Highway 506 in Cowlitz County.

The lawsuit was brought by about 50 residents who wanted to be able to sell their homes to anyone - not just to older people - and opponents of the age restriction say they've been harassed.

One plaintiff, Chuck Weaver, 68, said his tires have been slashed at least four times and he's put up a fence to protect his property. Deborah Balvage said she's been cursed at and threatened.

One plaintiffs' supporter told the Cowlitz County sheriff's office that a mutilated rabbit was hurled against his garage door in June and that another was thrown over his fence in retaliation for his views.

"I can't tell you how many times I've been threatened to be stabbed, murdered and taken out. It gets comical after a while," Weaver said, adding that the town's residents are battling simply because they're bored and frustrated.

Ryderwood was started as a logging town in the 1920s so timber workers could live with their wives and children instead of in men-only camps deep in the woods. It was converted to an unincorporated retirement community in the mid-1950s.

Residents pay dues to the Ryderwood Improvement and Service Association, which denies breaking the law and claims that it meets federal requirements for an exception to the Fair Housing Act known as the Housing for Older Persons Act. The association has appealed Settle's decision that it did not meet those requirements.

Weaver moved to Ryderwood from Olympia nearly five years ago because he wanted to live in a central location near his yacht, which is moored in Olympia, and Interstate 5, where he and his wife cruise in their RV. He said he quickly became bored and decided to leave, but confronted the age-restriction issue when he attempted to sell his home.

Association President Don Barnes said most people in Ryderwood can't understand why Weaver and the others bought their homes knowing the community was reserved for people 55 and older.

He insisted complaints of harassment are invented or at least overblown.

"I don't know of a single incidence where any of those people were harassed, intimidated or bullied," he said.

Carole Stine, 73, who has lived in Ryderwood since 2003 and supports the association. She told the newspaper that the town's residents shouldn't have to "worry about being run over by kids on bicycles."

"I love Ryderwood. I like my neighbors. I know that there's always somebody who's going to watch out for me. I know that if my blinds aren't open at some point during the day, somebody will call," she said. "You would not believe how generous residents are when there is a need."

Yet, she told the newspaper, "There is an undercurrent in town. If we lose our case and lose our 55-and-older community, I don't know what's going to happen."