RYDERWOOD, Wash. -- It's supposed to be the oldest "55 and over" village in the country, but thanks to a judge's order, anyone can live there. Some would say, they always could.
And that's the argument splitting the town into two camps.
"It's pitting neighbor against neighbor," said Donald Barnes, 83, who lives in town with his wife. "It's no longer that happy secure place that they moved here to have."
Ryderwood comprises about 270 homes straddling Highway 506 just south of the Cowlitz County line. Initially founded as a logging settlement, Ryderwood became a retirement village in 1953. Not one, but two, signs entering town boast the village's "55 and over" age restrictions.
"We felt it would be the ideal place to live out our remaining years," said Barnes, who is also currently the president of the Ryderwood Improvement and Services Association (RISA), the body that essentially maintains and governs the town.
"So did we," said Chuck Weaver, who lives with his wife one street over from Barnes. "So did we, and we were lied to."
Weaver and more than 50 other neighbors are plaintiffs in a lawsuit claiming Ryderwood is not a retirement community in the eyes of the law. Weaver said when he tried to sell his home, he ran into a problem.
"We had to either say this was a 55+ community when we knew it wasn't," he said, "or we had to say it wasn't, in which case we couldn't sell our home."
Weaver said town leadership over the years never followed proper procedure to legally establish itself as a "55 and over" community under the federal Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA) and the Fair Housing Act.
In August, a federal court judge issued a preliminary injunction against Ryderwood, saying the community must open its doors to younger prospective homeowners, that they could not claim HOPA as a defense against discrimination claims.
It's a victory that's caused Weaver to get his tires slashed, among other forms of harassment, he said, all part of the reason he no longer wants to live there.
"We've experienced death threats, we've had people run off the road," Weaver said. "We've had rabbits killed and thrown into people's yards."
Barnes said Weaver never approached RISA about these allegations, and believes the accusations are unfounded.
Each of the plaintiffs in the case, including Weaver, signed covenants recognizing that the restrictions that the community observed, Barnes said.
"I would like the courts and the people to be fair with us, give us a chance to exist in peace," said Barnes.
Barnes said Weaver was a previous board member, and even "helped set up the 55 and up signs that are currently up, and now he's switching to where he no longer wants it to be that way."
Weaver disagreed, saying he believes the covenants he signed are invalid anyway.
But when asked if he wanted Ryderwood to become a "55 and over" community, Weaver said "I don't really care. I don't really care. My concern is [that] I can leave. This is absolutely the worst hell-hole I've experienced in my entire life."
Weaver said he expects with the injunction in place, several of the plaintiffs' homes will soon be listed on the housing market.