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Homeowners Cast Wary Eye on Irving Plan to Sell N. Maine Leased Lots
09/13/2013   Reported By: Keith Shortall

In parts of Maine, it's a longtime tradition for people to lease camp lots from large landowners. The homeowner owns the camp structure itself, but pays to use the land on which it sits. That's the case for homeowners who live around four lakes in northern Maine. The land is owned by J.D. Irving, which is now proposing to get out of the leasing business and put the camp lots up for sale. As Keith Shortall reports, most tenants welcome the chance to buy the land beneath their property, but some are concerned about being priced out of their homes.

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J.D. Irving is a major land owner in the state of Maine, with holdings of 1.3 million acres, including about 50,000 acres around a chain of four lakes in northern Maine. The so-called Fish River Lakes Chain is comprised of Long Lake, Square Lake, Mud Lake and Cross Lake, and is the site of about 400 lots, which Irving leases to the owners of homes, and seasonal camps.

"Some of those leases have been in place for 30 or 40 years," says Anthony Hourihan, Irving's director of land development. Hourihan won't say how much those tenants pay, but leaseholders have indicated that it's about$1,300 a year.

Hourihan says Irving no longer wants to be in the land-leasing business, and is creating a plan for selling the lots to those 400 leaseholders.

"What we're trying to do is, over the long term, give people the opportunity to own those properties," he says. "And, in fact, a couple of years ago we were approached by the lease holder association to do just that, and that's kind of what spurred us on on this concept plan."

A spokeswoman for the Fish Lakes Leaseholders' Association says the organization has not taken a position on the plan, which is now in draft form. But she says the association has a good relationship with Irving.

"We have no problems at all with Irving - we're just curious and concerned as to what the concept plan is going to mean for us in the end," says Cheryl St. Peter.

St. Peter is secretary of the association, and is a year-round resident of Cross Lake with her husband, who serves as the group's president. She says while many leasing families - including hers - would prefer to own their land, there are some that could be hard pressed to get the financing.

"There are people on fixed incomes who wouldn't be able to afford to purchase their lots, unless they either got some kind of deal or some kind of long-term financing, or something like that," St. Peter says. "And a lot of banks, at least now, aren't keen on loaning money to people on leased land. But, of course, that may change with the fact that we'd be purchasing our lots."

Irving's Anthony Hourihan says the company plans to offer the lots at fair market value sometime after the concept plan is finalized and approved by state regulators.

"We've told them that if they were interested the current leaseholders would have the right of first-refusal," Hourihan says. "But, at the same time as well, we don't have a particular date or sense that, on this given day, these will all be converted to ownership from a lease. So we fully expect over a period of time that some of these will transition, and there may be situations where people don't want to transition. So we'll have to deal with that as it comes."

The company's concept plan, which will also cover conservation, public recreational access, and future development in the region, will be presented to the Land Use Planning Commission this fall.


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