Freedom Board Approves Year-Round Operation of Totem Pole

Freedom — August 21, 2004 — Town Hall was packed to capacity and the crowd was largely opposed, but on Thursday night, Freedom’s Planning Board voted 5 to 0, with one abstention, to allow Totem Pole Park campground on Ossipee Lake to be open for all but 30 days of the year.

The vote is the latest, but likely not the last, development in the long-standing debate that has taken place since the town authorized the property to be developed as a condominium campground in 1988, creating five lot owners for every acre of land. In exchange for that approval, the property’s developers agreed that lot owners could not claim residency in Freedom and that the property would be open only from April 15th through October 15th.

Two years later, in 1990, the park’s condominium association was back before the town to ask that the seasonal restriction be eliminated. While that application was denied, virtually the same application has now been approved, albeit with strings attached. In addition to being closed for 30 days of the year, the facility can only be used during the winter by lot owners who declare their intention to do so at the campground’s association meeting in September. Enforcement of the new agreement is the campground’s responsibility.

Many of Totem Pole Park’s neighboring property owners appeared at the Planning Board meeting to oppose year-round operations. Presenting petitions signed by more than 100 people during the past two weeks, they said that changing the original agreement is unjustified and the new restrictions are unenforceable. They claim that lot owners have violated the campground’s occupancy provisions for years, and neither the town nor the campground’s management has done anything about it.

Left largely unaddressed in the Planning Board’s decision were the environmental and safety concerns that were raised in the January hearing on the application. One of those concerns is Totem Pole Park’s community water system, which is seasonal and turned off after October.

Neighbors say that lot owners who violate the rules by staying at the campground during the winter obtain water from the park’s sole winter water source, a public bathroom building, and use it to cook, bathe, and flush the toilets of their living units. Now that the town has authorized the campground to remain open during the winter, the question remains whether occupancy is permissible under the state laws that govern the park’s seasonal community water and septic systems.

At the hearing in January, the attorney for the condominium association said the majority of the campground’s lot owners have no interest in winter use. If that is the case, those owners will be surprised to learn that they may face a use re-evaluation that could increase their property tax.

According to town’s tax collector, who spoke at the hearing, tax rates at the park are based on seasonal use from May through October. A change in status to year-round occupancy could increase taxes for all of the lot owners – an issue that is likely to be on the agenda when the campground’s association holds its annual meeting on Saturday, September 18th.

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