By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The offer by Hometown America Corporation of Chicago to purchase Briarcrest Estates has opened a rift among residents, who in 2014 formed the Lakemont Cooperative to purchase and manage the manufactured housing park.
When the offer was disclosed to residents at a meeting last weekend, they agreed by a show of hands to meet with representatives of Hometown America late in April, after residents spending the colder months in warmer climes have returned for the summer. However, on Monday the directors of the Lakemont Cooperative informed its members that what they called an "informational meeting" with the regional director of Hometown America will be held on Feb. 25 and a special meeting of the membership has been scheduled on April 8, when members will be asked to vote whether to accept or reject the offer.
Orry Gibbs, who was among the original directors of the Lakemont Cooperative, said that "the board has all of a sudden accelerated the time frame without any explanation." She said that many residents will not have returned from their winter residences by early April expressed concern at the prospect that a vote could be taken before a significant number of residents would have an opportunity to become informed about the offer, take part in the discussion and perhaps even cast their vote.
"We have been no reason for the rush to a decision," she said.
Katherine Carlson, who also was among the first officers of the cooperative, said that although the board has claimed the offer was not solicited, the letter from Hometown America Corporation outlining its terms begins "per our discussions," indicating that board members have been communicating with Hometown America for some time.
Jim Cowan, the first president of Lakemont Cooperative, said he is opposed to returning the park to private ownership and instead has suggested that the board vest management of the park with the Evergreen Harvard Group, with which it has contracted for property management services.
Earlier in the Week, Don Vachon, president of the Lakemont Cooperative, seemed to discount the offer, insisting that "it's an unsolicited offer" and saying "for the moment it's going nowhere." Vachon could not be reached on Tuesday to explain the board's decision to lend urgency to the vote.
Tara Riordan, director of ROC-NH (Resident Owned Communities), a division of of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, said that "our mission is supporting affordable housing." She noted that there are 121 manufactured housing parks in cooperative ownership throughout the state and that not one park acquired by its residents during the past 33 years has reverted to private or corporate ownership.
Riordan said that the Lakemont Cooperative is "extremely healthy financially," with sufficient reserve funds, and has a capital improvements plan in place to maintain the park without placing inordinate costs on residents. She explained that ROC-NH contributed to financing the acquisition of the park and has provided "technical advice," including model bylaws, to the board of directors of the cooperative. "Our desire is that the cooperative follow a clear, open and transparent process," she said, adding that ROC-NH will be represented at meetings of the Lakemont Cooperative "if members invite us."
Hometown America Corporation has pledged to honor all current leases, which limit annual rent increases to the rise in property taxes and inflation rate, together with any special assessment levied to fund improvements in the park. The company offered to invest $350,000 in improvements to the park in the first year of its ownership. And the offer included a commitment to restrict the park to residents aged 55 and older, a measure residents rejected by a wide margin at the annual meeting of the Lakemont Cooperative in 2015.
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