New co-op says Mooneys have a legal right to speak for Briarcrest residents

LACONIA — Responding to a petition filed on behalf of Mark and Ruth Mooney, the owners of Briarcrest Estates, asking the Belknap County Superior Court to approve the sale of their manufactured housing park to Maple Holding and Redevelopment, LLC, the Lakemont Cooperative, formed by residents seeking to purchase the park, claims that the court has no appropriate role in the transaction and charges the owners with failing to negotiate in good faith as the law requires.

In July, the Mooney tentatively accepted an offer from Maple Holding and Redevelopment, LLC of Orlando, Florida, an affiliate of Hometown America, Inc. of Chicago, among the largest owners of manufactured parks in the country, to purchase the 183-acre park with 241 home sites for $10 million. However, state law entitles the tenants to make a counter offer by presenting a purchase and sales agreement within 60 days of the first offer. The Lakemont Cooperative matched the $10 million offer.

The statute grants the cooperative "a reasonable time beyond the 60-day period, if necessary, to obtain financing for the purchase" and, in the meantime, requires the owners to bargain in good faith with the cooperative.
Representing the Mooneys, attorney John Giere, told the court that polling of residents indicated that a significant majority favored commercial over cooperative ownership of the park. Since the law is intended to safeguard the interests of tenants of the park, he argued that approving the sale to Maple Holding and Redevelopment, LLC would serve their best interests of the residents in keeping with the purpose of the law. At the same time, he asked the court to rule that the Mooneys should not be liable to penalties, amounting to $10,000 or 10 percent of the sale price whichever is greater, for failing to bargain in good faith.
Attorney Robert Shepherd of Nashua, acting for the newly-formed cooperative, rejected Geire's presumption that the Mooneys, as the owners of the park, were in any position to represent the interests of its residents. He dismissed the results of the polls, which were taken by the Mooneys and their representatives, claiming that they were not conducted in a "fair" manner and suggesting that residents were subject to intimidation. In any event, Shepherd reminded the court that the statute does not prescribe that the cooperative include a specific number or percentage of residents to make an offer and pursue the transaction.
Shepherd told the court that the cooperative had not only presented a purchase and sales agreement but also agreed to pay a $100,000 deposit once the Mooneys signed the agreement. By refusing to sign the purchase and sales agreement, he claimed, the Mooneys have wrongfully refused to consider the cooperative's offer and failed to negotiate in good faith. Moreover, he said that the Mooneys have withheld the financial information the cooperative requires to proceed with its due diligence.
Since the statute speaks for itself and governs the process, Shepherd concluded that there is no reason for the court to intervene, let alone to waive money penalties if the Mooneys persist in refusing to bargain in good faith with the cooperative.
Meanwhile, residents opposed to a sale to the cooperative have incorporated as the Briarcrest Estates Home Owners Association, which this week retained attorney Phil McLaughlin to represent their interests before the court.