WATCH: A battle is brewing between the new owners of a campsite northwest of Edmonton and long-time campers. Julia Wong explains.
At a popular campground northwest of Edmonton, many families who would normally be setting up for the summer are instead scrambling to tear down their long-held sites.
The new owner of Elks Beach Campground on Lac La Nonne, just south of Barrhead, recently surprised year-to-year leaseholders with an ultimatum: pay $35,000 for a 35-year term or vacate their lots by May 22.
“For that amount of money to be thrown out all at once, it’s a lot for people to handle. We can’t do it,” says Jennifer Camphuis, 27.
Camphuis has been going to Elks Beach since she was about five years old; she and her fiancé bought a trailer at the site five years ago. She said the new lease is hard to take in.
“When you have residents out here, older in their 70s, 80s, a lot of them are not going to want to sign a 35-year lease to stay.”
She says the timeframe to move out is unreasonable.
“It doesn’t give a lot of families a lot of time to pull everything out. A lot of us don’t have trucks, a lot of us don’t have working trailers that are even moveable. It’s displacing a lot of families, a lot of memories.”
Camphuis and several other campers tell Global News they put down a $400 deposit in October 2016 with the understanding the rest of the payment for a summer lease would be due this month.
However, the campsite was sold over the winter and the new owner, Calgary businessman Trent Marcotte, offered a different deal.
In a letter to campers obtained by Global News, Marcotte says “we are moving away from year-to-year leasing and immediately implementing a 35-year term for all site[s]. The price per site will be $35,000+GST, plus estimated monthly operating costs….”
“While we recognize that this is a significant upfront cost, it works out to $1,000 per year which, when compared to yearly seasonal sites in the area, we will be the lowest average yearly cost option on Lac La Nonne.… A deposit of 10 per cent will be required by May 15, 2017 to secure your lot, with the balance due by June 1, 2017.”
A second letter gives campers an extension to vacate their lots.
“I am providing some options based on the feedback I have received to extend the timing and offer a solution that is reasonable for everyone involved,” says the May 10 letter, signed by Marcotte. “I truly apologize for any undue stress this may have caused.”
The letter says campers have until June 11 to clear out, at no extra cost. After that, it will be $500 a month for each month up to Sept. 11; it is unclear what will happen after that date.
“It’s sad we even had to ask for [the extension],” says Janette Szucs of Edmonton, who started going to Elks Beach 36 years ago.
“Mom and dad first got a place out there… so when they came out, we started coming out. My three children are all grown and all have a place out here as well. We have three generations now plus they have their children.”
Szucs is upset about the lack of communication to campers, saying she only heard about the sale through Facebook. Unable to accept the new terms of the lease, her family is now working frantically to take apart everything they’ve accumulated on their lots over the decades.
“A lot of people, this was their retirement community. People were building because this is where they wanted to retire.
“It’s a very tight-knit community. We do a lot together. We do year-end suppers for all the campers. It’s a community and that’s the part people are really feeling disheartened about – our community, as we know it, is gone.”
Jason Lenz, president of the Elks Beach Campers’ Association, says many campers are choosing to leave and have already made arrangements elsewhere.
“It’s devastating because of the community out here. Everyone is separating. Everyone is leaving. Back home, I don’t really know my neighbours but out here, everyone chips in together. You know your neighbours, you visit, you socialize, you celebrate, you grieve together.”
Marcotte declined to be interviewed and directed Global News to Brookline Public Relations, which issued this statement in response to our inquiries: “We have listened to the concerns of the tenants and are actively revisiting options that are more suitable for everyone involved. All tenants have been notified of these timeline revisions and we are working together to offer a solution that is reasonable for everyone involved.”
No response was given to questions about the $35,000 payment option, the type of lease offered to residents or how Marcotte will respond to a cease and desist letter sent on behalf of the campers. Global News was referred back to the original statement.
Brookline did offer that any campers who choose to leave will receive a full refund of their deposits.
Lenz says he doesn’t feel confident Marcotte will reconsider the new terms and wishes the new owner had given campers more time to make a decision about their summer homes.
Service Alberta says anyone who feels they might have been a victim of unfair practices by a business can call its consumer line at 1-877-427-4088.