Freedom — September 3, 2004 — Freedom officials are worried that with a stroke of a pen the town’s population may double.
The Freedom planning board on August 19th reluctantly approved an amendment to a 1988 agreement with Totem Pole Park that would extend overnight camping at the condominium campground from 6 to 11 months.
While Totem’s board of directors is adamant that owners do not seek full-time residency, town officials fear campsite owners may eventually claim residency. Should the board’s fears be realized, Freedom stands to add 459 homes, many owned by families, to its full-time resident population of just under 1,200.
Planning board vice-chair Ralph Kazanjian explained that many in Freedom feel that Totem for years has been nibbling away at the agreement which forbids full-time residency. Citing a November, 1987, statement by Totem Pole Park pursuant to its original subdivision approval that reads, “… the campground will definitely not be available for any use November through April of each year,” members of the planning board note that the park is asking to open more than was originally intended.
President of Totem’s owners association, Paul Corbin, contends that the town’s fears are unfounded. “The park will not be open any more than it ever has. In the winter we have no activities, nothing. The park is closed.” Corbin said the association’s water system will shut down as usual for the winter in November. “It’s like your camp on the lake. You close it up for the winter and the water is off.”
And Corbin says, full-time residency violates the owner’s association’s rules put forth in their declaration.
“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.
Freedom Selectmen’s Chair Les Babb reported that the town has also had to regularly address overnight camping violations Totem. “They have been doing it and they have gotten letters from the town,” he said. “Every winter.”
According to New Hampshire condominium law, Corbin related, Totem would need a vote of 306 out 459 owners to change any aspect of their declaration, including an increase in the ‘open’ season, where services are provided. “We, the association, do not want what any of them fear,” he reiterated. “We simply don’t want to be fined for using our sties over the winter.” Corbin illustrated a scenario of an owner sleeping overnight after skiing or snowmobiling rather than renting a hotel room.
So what has the town concerned? “I don’t understand it, fear maybe?,” asked Corbin. According to the town’s lawyer, John Ratigan, case law has changed since Totem’s 1988 subdivision approval. A recent court decision found it unlawful for the town of Gilford to deny a similar request made to it by a condominium campground, Ratigan told the board. Gilford had attempted to restrict all access to a campground for a 30-day period. Freedom has the right to restrict residency, advised Ratigan, but probably not access.
Freedom officials fear this may foreshadow a push by Totem for residency rights. In response to this concern, the planning board returned its approval on August 19 with a conditional clause that asks Totem owners to voluntarily relinquish rights to individual wells. Under New Hampshire law, however, the state can issue a well permit to anyone and the town has no legal grounds to object, said Paul Dorian of the planning board.
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. Totem’s board of directors said they would confer with their attorney regarding acceptance of the amendment and the no-well clause. The condition was recently added to the amendment, along with a noise restriction, by the planning board since the two previous public hearings in December 2003, and January 2004.
“It is the lesser of the evils,” conceded Freedom selectmen’s chair, Les Babb, of the town’s conditional approval of 11 months. “You take one park that has as many residents as the rest of the town. You don’t think that will affect the town?”
The association now has 459 units, most of which are mobile homes 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.
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. Owners share use and ownership of the association’s common property.
The park is managed by DC Management, LLC, who provides planned activities during summer months, and is responsible for maintaining the cleanliness and repair of common grounds and buildings, security at the front gate and throughout the park, and various other operations within the park.
The Freedom planning board may address the Totem Pole Park amendment at its next regular monthly meeting on September 16.