Freedom — January 8, 2004 — The directors of Totem Pole Park, the largest campground on Ossipee Lake, have applied to the Freedom Planning Board for approval to remain open during the winter. The application was presented at the Planning Board’s December 18th meeting and was continued to Thursday, January 15th at 7 PM at Freedom Town Hall.
Totem Pole Park is a “resort condominium campground” according to the Internet website of its management company, DC Management LLC of West Ossipee. Unique among campgrounds on the lake, its 459 sites are privately owned as condominium units. The facility is spread over 90 acres on the big lake and has common areas that include a laundry, sports fields, and a post office.
The campground is only authorized to operate from May through October, a restriction imposed in 1988 as part of the town’s agreement to allow lots on the property to be sold as condominium units. The application to the Planning Board seeks to modify the agreement, embodied in the 1988 site plan Approval, and allow property owners to use or rent their property for all or a majority of the months during which the facility is now closed.
While the initial focus of the park was camping with tents and “pop-up campers,” the park now has a large number of permanently-located trailers and “park models,” which are relatively upscale recreation vehicles. Many of these units have been expanded with additions that make them the size of a small house. Among the properties listed on the Internet for sale or rent at Totem Pole Park is a unit described as a “modular home with 47’ screened-in porch…[that] sleeps 6-8.”
As part of the 1988 agreement, and in conjunction with the occupancy restriction, owners of lots in the park cannot be considered town residents. At the December 18th Planning Board meeting, members of the Board questioned the park’s attorney, Patrick Wood of Laconia, about the impact that year-round operations could have on residency claims. Wood said that he was not requesting changes in that part of the agreement, just a change in the number of months the park is open.
Wood told the Board that the park’s condominium owners should have the same right to operate during the winter months as Danforth Bay Campground. Planning Board chairman Robert Houle questioned that claim, pointing out that the ownership structure of the two facilities makes them quite different, with Danforth Bay Campground privately owned by a single family and Totem Pole Park owned by hundreds of individuals as part of the condominium ownership structure that has been in place for 15 years.
Representing the town at the meeting, attorney John Raddigan said that with real estate prices being so high, property owners on fixed incomes might seek to use the park as a retirement option. He posed a hypothetical question about the impact on the character of the area if 400 or more property owners moved into the park or rented their properties for 10 or 11 months of the year. In response, Wood speculated that only 100-150 property owners would exercise their winter rights if the town approves the request.
Other questions raised at the meeting concerned the impact of expanded operations on the park’s water and septic system and on the environment, given the unique composition of the soil along the lake shorefront. The cost to the town for additional fire and police services was also mentioned. One member of the public at the meeting questioned whether the park was already being used during the winter months in violation of the 1988 agreement and he asked that the town levy fines against anyone not abiding by the rules.