LACONIA — Following a meeting at their community center last night, 107 homeowners at Briarcrest Estates signed a petition in support of an effort to forestall the sale of the manufactured housing park to the Lakemont Cooperative, Inc., which was formed by other residents of the park.
The rift among residents has widened and deepened since July when Mark and Ruth Mooney, the owners of the park, accepted an offer from Hometown America, Inc., which owns 41 parks with 19,000 households in 11 states, to purchase the park for $10 million. In accord with state law, which entitles tenants to make a counter offer and requires the owners to bargain in good faith, a group of residents incorporated as the Lakemont Cooperative to match the $10 million offer.
In response, the Mooneys petitioned the Belknap County Superior Court to approve the sale of the park to Hometown America, Attorney John Giere, representing the Mooneys, claims that since most residents oppose cooperative ownership, approving the transaction would serve the best interests of the majority in keeping with the intent of the law.
Residents met at the suggestion of attorney Phil McLaughlin, who has been retained those opposed to cooperative ownership and management of the park. He explained that there are two parties to the litigation, the park owners and the cooperative. The law, he said, effectively vests the cooperative with the right to represent all the residents and does not provide those opposed to the cooperative an opportunity to be heard. In this case, McLaughlin said, "the law does not allow for the majority to be heard."
McLaughlin said that he intends to ask the court to allow the residents who prefer commercial to cooperative ownership to intervene, effectively serving as witnesses on behalf of the Mooneys. He said that 10 residents had already agreed to approach the court and the only remaining question was how many others would join them on the petition that was signed last night. He specified that only one person from each household sign the petition.
Speaking for the group Daphne Towle said that in addition to the 107 who have signed the petition, she is assured of at least another 25 signatures by Monday. The 132 would represent 56.8 percent of the 232 occupied sites in the park.
The petition reads that the signatories prefer commercial to cooperative ownership and management because the cooperative does not represent the preferences of residents, current management is superior, commercial management is in the best interest of residents, and lease costs are stable and provide proven value. In addition, it contends that the increased costs or reduced services if the cooperative must service $10 million in debt "is something we never bargained for and do not want."
McLaughlin indicated that he would question what the statute intends by requiring the park owners to bargain in good faith when it fails to provide for the opinions of longstanding residents to be heard. He said he expects to present the petition to the court by the end of next week.