Freedom—November 14, 2018—A long-simmering dispute over zoning enforcement and sales practices at Westward Shores has come to a head with a lawsuit filed by over 70 campers against the current and former owners of the campground and the Town of Ossipee.
The Plaintiffs ask the court to establish that their camping units, and improvements made to them, are grandfathered for zoning purposes. The suit also asks the court to find that Northgate knowingly engaged in unfair and deceptive sales practices, and that the previous owners, Anthony Aversa and Joan Brassil, violated state law by withholding information concerning the 2015 sale of the business to Michigan-based Northgate Resorts.
In addition to asking for an injunction against the enforcement of Ossipee’s floodplain regulations, the Plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages from Northgate, Aversa and Brassil.
The request for an injunction against enforcement of zoning laws was spurred by the campground’s mandate a year ago that renters must bring their camping units into compliance with Ossipee’s floodplain ordinance by October 20, 2018 or else be expelled from the property.
The focus on compliance was, in part, an outcome of a settlement between Northgate and the Town of Freedom to settle Freedom’s 2016 lawsuit against Ossipee, in which it argued that Ossipee’s approval of the campground’s expansion threatened water quality and violated town zoning.
Freedom dropped the suit after Northgate agreed in a court settlement to bring the property into floodplain compliance, including having camping units be either “highway-ready” with no permanent attachments (such as three-season rooms, porches and carports) or else be securely anchored and elevated above FEMA’s 100-year flood level.
In its letter to campers, Northgate said that any plans to bring units into compliance would have to be approved by the campground as well as the town, and they promised assistance.
“We understand that this will require coordination between Westward Shores and the Town of Ossipee, but we think we can accomplish the goal of becoming fully compliant with floodplain regulations and in return protect your investment in your RV,” the letter stated.
The Plaintiffs allege that the promised coordination never took place, and compliance applications were denied by the campground before they could be submitted to the town because management believed approving them would violate the special exception Northgate received to expand the business.
Having been “bounced back and forth between Northgate and the Town for months as they try to preserve their investments,” the Plaintiff’s attorney told the court, “the conflicting views of those holding the power have left the Plaintiffs with no other option than to request assistance from the court.”
The Plaintiffs also allege in their court papers that for years they relied on representations by the campground’s previous owners and town officials that their units could be enlarged, and attachments constructed, without a building permit and with only the approval of the campground manager required.
The Plaintiffs claim that Ossipee has assessed taxes on the campground units “since before 1991,” and there is “no record the Town has ever complained about, nor taken enforcement actions against the Improvements since Westward Shores opened.”
In a second aspect of the lawsuit, the Plaintiffs assert that Northgate violated the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act by “willfully and knowingly” engaging in “an unfair and deceptive practice that rises to the level of rascality identified by the N.H. Supreme Court.”
The Plaintiffs assert that after Northgate purchased the business, it continued the previous owners’ practice of requiring sales of camping units to be brokered through campground officials, a service for which Northgate collected a 15% sales commission.
The suit alleges that Northgate facilitated the sale of 23 units on a commission basis without advising purchasers that the campground was in discussions with state and local officials to either “phase out” such structures or require expensive modifications, including the removal of stick-built attachments.
The lawsuit asks the court to find that the 23 Plaintiffs affected by Northgate’s allegedly deceptive practices are owed compensatory damages and attorney fees.
The suit further alleges that the previous owners, Joan Brassil and Dr. Anthony Aversa, violated state law RSA 205-A:21, which prohibits an owner of a property with manufactured housing on it from accepting a binding offer for the sale or transfer of the property without first giving tenants 60 days’ notice and an opportunity to make their own offer.
The Plaintiffs claim that Brassil and Aversa not only failed to provide the required tenant notice after Northgate made its purchase offer, but that they also instructed their employees to withhold the information.
The lawsuit asks the court to award the Plaintiff group damages pursuant to RSA 205-A:22, which states that the failure to comply with the tenant noticing provision makes the seller liable to the tenants in the amount of $10,000 or 10% of the total sales price, whichever is greater. The purchase price of the campground was $7,130,000 according to court records.
The complete court document is available here.