Ossipee—May 30, 2019—Westward Shores’ owner Northgate Resorts is currently in two state courtrooms over zoning issues at its New Hampshire campgrounds. While a class action lawsuit filed against it last year by Westward Shores campers is working its way through Carroll County Superior Court, the Michigan-based business’s dispute with the Town of Milton over the expansion of MiTeJo Campground reached the Supreme Court this month.
In a May 14th appeal, an attorney for Northgate asked the High Court to determine whether Milton zoning officials erred in applying the state’s regional impact statutes (RSA 36:54-58) to the proposed expansion, and whether the board was reasonable in its conclusion that the expansion would cause “undue nuisance or serious hazard” to pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
The court case stems from Northgate’s application to the Milton Zoning Board of Adjustment for a special exception to expand camping capacity by 78%—from 223 campsites to 396—and to add bathhouses, pools, a mini-golf course, and water slides to the business. MiTeJo is in the town’s Low Density Residential zoning district, where campgrounds are permitted by special exception.
Northgate’s special exception application was filed in August, 2017, five months after it purchased the business in the name of Three Ponds Resort LLC, a New Hampshire entity managed by Sun NG LLC, according to state records. Like Northgate, Sun NG LLC is based in Michigan. Northgate owns nine other campgrounds in addition to Westward Shores and MiTeJo, according to its website.
The Milton campground is on Northeast Pond, one of three connected bodies of water known as Milton Three Ponds. Properties on one side of the water, including MiTeJo, are in New Hampshire, while properties on the opposite side are in Maine.
An initial zoning board ruling on the expansion application found that Northgate could meet four of zoning’s five special exception criteria, but not the one requiring that there be no “undue nuisance or serious hazard” to pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
As the campground prepared to rebut the town’s decision with traffic studies, the ZBA, on the advice of town counsel, ruled that the expansion had the potential for regional impact based on “expected increases in smoke, surface water contamination, and local traffic.” That meant the Strafford County Regional Planning Commission needed to be notified, and the neighboring towns of Acton and Lebanon, both in Maine, needed to be granted abutter status. It also required that an examination of the application needed to begin anew.
As hearings continued into the spring of 2018, Northgate gradually reduced the number of new campsites from 173 to 163 to 95, while leaving the rest of the proposal, including the new amenities, substantially unchanged, according to court documents.
A final hearing was held on June 28. Consistent with the original ruling, the ZBA found the expansion would cause undue impact on traffic and pedestrians. But this time it also ruled that the expansion would be “injurious, noxious, offensive or detrimental to the neighborhood,” and the proposed amenities were not consistent with “the spirit of the ordinance and the intent of the Master Plan.”
Northgate/Three Ponds moved for a rehearing, which was denied, and then appealed to Strafford County Superior Court, where a number of abutting residential property owners intervened in the case in support of the ZBA’s decision.
On April 17, Judge Steven Houran affirmed the town’s denial of the expansion, setting the stage for Northgate’s appeal to the High Court.