Freedom — September 17, 2004 — All’s well that ends well at Totem Pole Park, say some Freedom residents. But a condition to restrict wells added to a sub-division approval to allow overnight use of sites from six to eleven months has prompted six Freedom residents to consult a lawyer, and it is feeding the fear that the seasonal area could turn into a residential trailer park.
Totem owners got the only thing they asked from Freedom—the right to use their sites in the winter. The planning board imposed a surprise condition on August 19 banning private wells on the sites. It is a cobbled together agreement that selectmen’s chair, Les Babb resignedly called the “lesser of the evils.”
So what’s the big deal? Oh, wells.
The wells condition concerns at least six Freedom residents. Among them is Larry Foss, who says the six have sought legal counsel to determine if the agreement scripted by the planning board is legal, and therefore enforceable. “There are six individuals in town that have talked to a lawyer and are they are upset about it,” Foss said. “Is this enforceable? I don’t know. We’re supposed to find out within the next few days.”
Should counsel deem the document unenforceable, Foss surmised, in his opinion, “We’re going to have to go back to the old agreement.”
Planning board chair Brian Hampton could not be reached for comment.
Foss has been walking around with a petition and to date says he has a list of 90 people who are against the increase to the park’s open season. “I haven’t talked to one person who is for it, and I talked to almost everybody. People have been thanking me for being against this,” he said. “The big worry is that we are going to have another trailer park eventually.”
“If this agreement is not legal then no one can stop these things,” Foss said regarding everything from wells to year-round residency and voting and schooling rights. “Wells are one thing, but it’s immaterial. The main thing is if somebody moves in with three kids of school age for eleven months, and the state tells us we have to educate them.”
“You’re not supposed to talk about that,” he said. “But it just looks as though we could be faced with another Pine River; that’s putting it badly,” he conceded. “It’s a recreational campground and it should stay a recreational campground. They don’t have facilities for a trailer park and it’s not set up for a trailer park,” Foss continued. “Totem was never OK’d for anything but a recreational park.”
On that point, Totem Pole owners association president Paul Corbin agrees with the staunchest of his opponents. “We are not a mobile home park we’re a recreational vehicle park,” he said.
Corbin is dismissive of fears that park owners may use the sub-division amendment approval as a step towards residency and flood the schools with “homeless” children, a concern also raised at an August 19 planning board meeting. “It cannot happen. If we are not residents of the town, [school] is not entitled to us. It’s someone’s dream,” he said. “If someone were to lose their job, I don’t think selling their house in southern New Hampshire or Massachusetts to move to Totem Pole Park is what they would do.”
The association has 459 units, most of which are 400 square-foot park model travel trailers valued around $80,000 and owned by retirees and upscale families from Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, according to Corbin. Only a small percentage, he said, are interested in any form of winter use and that residency is forbidden by their condominium declaration, which can only be changed by a vote in favor of no less than 306 out of 459.
“We do not want the right of residency,” he explained. “What the town fears goes against our own rules and we’ve proved it in the past by evictions.”
Corbin says the association itself has evicted people for camping outside the approved season. “We discovered it and forced them to cease and desist,” he said.
Selectman Les Babb reported that the town has also had to regularly address overnight camping violations at Totem. “They have been doing it and they have gotten letters from the town,” he said. “Every winter.”
“The association decided that we accomplished what we wanted: occupying sites in the winter for recreational use without being fined,” he said of the his board’s acceptance of the planning board’s conditional amendment. “And that’s what we got.”
“There were some legal things we just didn’t want to get into,” he said, opting out of taking a formal stance on the restriction on wells.” [The planning board] brought it up,” he said. We never asked for wells. They threw it in. We don’t consider it an issue because we weren’t asking for it.”
Corbin says the park’s board of directors held off on signing the agreement to consult their attorney to make sure acceptance of the well clause didn’t violate owners’ rights. In New Hampshire, the state can issue a well permit to an individual and the town does not have legal grounds to object.
The clause was described as “a good faith offer,” by selectman Jim Breslin; one that would demonstrate Totem’s commitment to remain a true campground.
“We took some time to think about it. The only reason we hesitated and didn’t sign that [agreement] right away was out of concern for anybody’s constitutional rights,” Corbin explained. “This doesn’t sign away anybody’s rights. If an individual wants to pursue that on their own,” he said, “the association has no official interests. Some disapprove, some don’t care and some that think it’s our right, We don’t want to necessarily aggravate those people who disapprove,” he said. “We want to be able to not bother anyone and not be bothered.”
He added, “the planning board office has been good about it. Selectmen have been nothing but cooperative and we hope to be the same. And most discussions have been very amiable, except that one meeting,” he said in reference to a heated planning board meeting on August 19. “Most of this we feel was a lack of communication. What we do is not what some think we do. Some think somebody is out to get somebody, really nobody is out to get anybody. I hope people will see that.”
“That all comes with time, I suppose,” he said.
While not on the agenda as of Wednesday, planning board member Geraldine Lippincott said Totem Pole Park was destined to come up at the board’s September 16 meeting. “I’m sure it’s going to be on the agenda,” she said. “Because the selectmen haven’t seen the agreement since it’s been signed.” Lippincott explained that it is the Selectmen’s responsibility to enforce residency and all other compliance issues. “I imagine we’ll also be talking about townspeople and their reaction to the agreement,” she said.
“I surely am going, Foss said. “I am going to sit there and listen.”
Corbin added that his board may send a representative just to see if the park comes up, but has no planned presentation. “We got what we wanted,” he said. “This is all we had in mind ever.”
In 1988 the Freedom planning board granted a subdivision approval to Totem Pole Park, ultimately allowing a group of private campsite owners two years later to establish an association on 12 acres on the shore of Lake Ossipee off of Pequawket Trail Road. Totem Pole Park petitioned to amend the 1988 agreement with the town regarding seasonal use of their condominium campground sites in December of 2002. The petition asked the Freedom planning board to extend the park’s overnight camping season from 6 to 11 months, citing recent case law that would render denial by the town unlawful. The planning board approved the amendment adding noise and well restrictions on August 19. Totem Pole Park accepted the approval about one week later.