Ossipee – July 9, 2009 – Absent a last minute reprieve, Westward Shores Campground and Marina will go on the block in a foreclosure sale this Friday morning at 11 a.m. But principal owner Charlie Smith is still betting the sale won’t take place.
“I don’t believe there will be a sale, but beyond that I can’t comment specifically,” Smith said by phone yesterday, adding that he has “too much equity” in the business to give up trying.
Smith said he’s been working to unravel the financial tangle that led to last month’s foreclosure of the big lake business he’s owned since 1999.
In a June 8 interview with Ossipee Lake Alliance, Smith said the foreclosure was tied to the banking crisis. His mortgage was sold to several other banks and ended up with investors who triggered a provision in the contract to accelerate payments.
“That’s how it started, but it’s all being resolved,” he said at the time.
One month later, campers aren’t so sure. As the clock ticks toward the deadline, some say they’re nervous about the campground’s future and their status there if there is a change in ownership.
“We’ve already paid for the summer season,” said one camper who, like many others, agreed to speak on the record only if he wasn’t quoted by name.
“I’m worried if the camp changes hands we’ll be kicked out by the new owner,” he added.
Chief among the campers’ complaints is what they say is a lack of communication from Smith and his partner, John Hardie.
“We’re all in the same boat,” said a long-time resident from Massachusetts, “but there’s been no meeting, no email, nothing.”
“It’s so quiet it’s almost like the whole issue has gone away. That has everyone guessing.”
The relative silence is in contrast to last month when relations between the owners and campers boiled over into cyberspace as angry camp residents unloaded publicly on Smith and Hardie by posting comments on the Ossipee Lake Alliance website.
The anger developed after campers returning in the spring were given a memo saying the owners planned to condominiumize the campsites in part to protect the investments of the many campers who had improved their sites and added permanent fixtures.
The memo asked campers to pay a $500 deposit by June 1 to hold their site for later purchase. Those who chose not to make the deposit risked losing their site to another buyer, the memo suggested. An information meeting was scheduled and then canceled in a series of confusing emails, and the June 1 deadline was scrapped, ending the communication chain from the owners.
As campers were adjusting to the news about the condo plan, Ossipee Lake Alliance reported that the Boston Globe had published a foreclosure notice on the property saying it would be sold at auction on July 10.
The reaction was immediate, with campers and former campers posting comments online accusing Smith and Hardie of everything from deceptive practices to high prices to deferred maintenance. Some posters claimed the condo plan had no support from campers and was a desperate attempt by the owners to raise cash to prevent the foreclosure.
After enduring days of online assaults, Hardie responded to the comments by saying the owners had made more than $2 million in infrastructure improvements to the camp since purchasing the business. He challenged anyone with a grievance to call him directly or meet with him in person.
Speaking with the Alliance yesterday, Charlie Smith acknowledged that there has been a lack of information but said it would jeopardize his negotiations to say more.
As for last month’s online attacks, he was philosophical, saying it was the work of a small number of disgruntled campers, some of whom have already been ejected from the campground. He said his door is always open for people to talk with him directly.
Even if Smith is successful in retaining ownership, the status of his plan to sell campsites as condominium units is unclear. While the Ossipee Planning Board approved the plan last month, DES denied it in April, although the agency says it will reconsider the plan upon receipt of additional information and a $150 per site conversion fee.
In the meantime, some campers say they are planning to attend Friday’s sale if they can get away from work. Just to see what happens.
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