Salmon Point site inheritance practice questioned

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

As Bridgton Selectmen sort out policy changes to operation of the town-owned Salmon Point Campground, a contentious issue has resurfaced: inheritance of lot lease rights.

Some time back the town decided it made sense to allow leaseholders to pass along their lease to other family members, when they no longer wish to lease the lot themselves. That way, the children of leaseholders could take over responsibility for the lease once grown — keeping the site all in the family, in perpetuity.

But while the town has allowed the practice, it’s been more a matter of tradition than anything else; there has not been any formal policy in place sanctioning the lease inheritance. Ever since the town took over the property, a sizable number of the seasonal campers at the 55-site campground on Long Lake have been coming back every summer, some for as long as 40 years.

In recent workshops, however, the fairness of the practice has come under question, particularly by Community Development Committee member Chuck Renneker. He believes it comes too close to granting ownership rights over a portion of what is supposed to be a public recreational resource. Some of these returning campers own leases on prime lakefront lots. Shouldn’t others be given the chance to rent the sites at some point, he argues?

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said at the Aug. 27 Selectmen’s meeting he wasn’t worried that the town was giving over any legal ownership, since renters cannot, by law, claim adverse possession over property owned by a town. But he did caution that the town needs to consider the matter carefully.

“I’m not opposed to establishing long-term inheritance (of lease rights), but, you need to decide under what criteria you allow one person to do it, and not another.”

The board decided at that meeting to continue running Salmon Point as a seasonal campground, offering long-term leases from May to October for most sites, and only maintaining a small number of so-called “transient” sites available to overnight campers. They decided to table, until Jan. 14, 2014, any decision on a public policy granting inheritance rights to lease holders.

The board’s efforts to improve the aesthetics at the campground also challenge traditional practices. Members Bob McHatton and Bernie King agreed to conduct site visits to help shape a policy governing how many and what type of accessory structures will be allowed on the leased lots.

Recently, the state Department of Environmental Protection visited and found several structures like sheds and decks that were within 100 feet from the lake and therefore in violation of state Shoreland Zoning requirements. However, the state chose not to fine the town or force the structures’ removal. State officials stipulated instead that going forward, such structures will not be allowed.

McHatton and King will be looking both within and outside the Shoreland Zone with a view of developing a common sense policy for the entire campground. They agreed to bring their findings back to the board on Nov. 12, a date that will be a point of reckoning on a number of Salmon Point policy issues.

“We do not want to become so restrictive that we drive people away to other campgrounds,” McHatton said. Still, Berkowitz added, “We’ve heard what people say when they first view Salmon Point” and see the high number of awnings, decks, sheds and other structures on the lot in addition to the primary recreational vehicle. “We want to make it a comfortable place to be, but how much do you allow on the sites before it’s too much?”

The board earlier agreed to add five more campsites and clear additional area for parking, bringing the total number of sites to 60.

Later in the meeting, when public comment was allowed, campsite leaseholder Charlie Record expressed his frustration over Renneker’s opposition to inheritance rights for leaseholders.

“How come he can get up and say anything he wants, and we can’t say anything back?” Record asked. Since no actual ownership of property is involved, “It shouldn’t be any problem passing it down from generation to generation.”

Another leaseholder, Bob Farrin, said he has raised four granddaughters who “love Salmon Point,” and he wants the option to eventually turn over his lease to one or more of them. “The town has the right to make it perpetual,” he said, adding that the board should not have appointed “a bunch of clowns to make decisions you should be making,” referring to the CDC.

Farrin also expressed his fear of adding new sites for transient campers, wondering if that entitled seasonal campers to “some sort of security.”

Later in the meeting, Comprehensive Plan Committee Chairman Bob Wiser spoke up, suggesting that the board appoint a committee to come up with policy recommendations on Salmon Point, instead of spending so much of its own time on the issues involved.

 

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