By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The board of directors of the Lakemont Cooperative, which owns, manages and operates Briarcrest Estates, has has scrapped meetings in February and April to consider an offer from Hometown America Corporation to purchase the manufacturing housing park after residents wintering in warmer climes said that the schedule would effectively exclude them from the process. Instead, Don Vachon, president of the board, told residents that the special meeting will be held in June to coincide with the annual meeting of of cooperative.
Last week the board announced it had scheduled an "informational" meeting on Feb. 25 and special meeting of the members of the cooperative on April 8, when a vote would be taken to accept or reject the offer. Apart from the "snowbirds," several past officials of the cooperative voiced misgivings about what Orry Gibbs, a former director, called a "rush to a decision." Gibbs was echoed by Katherine Carlson, also a former member of the board who still serves on its finance committee, and Jim Cowan, the first president of the cooperative. All three questioned the wisdom of dissolving the cooperative and selling the park. As a cooperatively owned park, control of both the annual operating budget and expenses for capital improvements rests with the residents of the park.
Gibbs said Monday that she is pleased that the board has rescheduled any vote on Hometown America Corporation's offer to acquire the park and hoped that the time would be used to hold one or more meetings, at which residents would be fully informed of the ramifications of relinquishing ownership of the park to a private corporation. She said that those meetings should include representatives of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund and TD Bank, which loaned the cooperative the funds to purchase the park, as well as officials Hometown America Corporation.
Hometown America Corporation has offered to retire the outstanding balances on a $8 million loan from TD Bank and $2 million loan from the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund as well as pay the prepayment penalty of $873,000 on the bank loan, closing costs and real estate transfer taxes associated with the transaction. In addition the firm 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 has 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.
Mark and Ruth Mooney open Briarcrest Estates in 1988. The park stretches over 183 acres, divided between Laconia and Belmont, and consists of 241 homesites, 200 in Laconia and 41 in Belmont. The Lakemont Cooperative matched an offer from Hometown America to purchased the park ffrom the Mooneys for $10 million in 2014. Since the New Hampshire Legislature granted residents of manufactured housing parks the opportunity to acquire their parks in 1987, 121 parks have passed into cooperative ownership and none have reverted to private ownership.
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