Camping is supposed to be fun; however the landowners of Hidden Lakes Campground located at 5248 Township Road 108 outside Mt. Gilead in Franklin Township, say that the fun has been taken out of their experience by the current board of directors.
Dale Butts has “resided” at Hidden Lakes Campground for the past 19 years and is a former board member of Hidden Lakes. Butts wanted to respond to a recent article in the Sentinel which discussed a meeting between the Morrow County Commissioners, other county officials and representatives of the Hidden Lakes Board of Directors. Butts is the chairman of the Property Owners Rights Committee (PORC), and he wanted the Hidden Lakes property owner’s side of the story to be heard.
The controversy at Hidden Lakes is a complicated one. Hidden Lakes is licensed as a campground, yet the property is not owned by one entity known as Hidden Lakes Campground: individual lots are owned by individual property owners.
Regarding the Sentinel article which quoted the Hidden Lakes Board representatives as stating, “There has been confusion over time between the term “year round use” and “permanent residence.” He (the Hidden Lakes representative) explained that they do not believe in prohibiting access to property at any time during the year, however, they are seeing a growing trend of people making Hidden Lakes their ‘permanent residence.’
In an email, one landowner, Dr. Steve Hale, wrote, “The term camping has nothing to do with duration. A person can camp for a week or a year… Camping refers to the accommodations, not the length of time.”
Butts claims that when he purchased his property, it was marketed as “year round camping.” He provided a brochure which not only boasts year round camping but encourages retirees to purchase “a park model for your retirement” and year round water and restrooms. Butts says everything changed in 2004 when the bylaws changed.
Butts also provided letters from various agencies with their views on the matter. One letter dated November of 1999 from the Morrow County Health Department reads, “Because Hidden Lakes are owned lots, property owners can not be denied access to their properties, as such, the (Hidden lakes) Association may not prohibit year round camping.” It continues, “Restroom facilities must be provided when camping is permitted. Since camping can not be prohibited on a seasonal basis, access to restroom facilities must be provided year round.”
A letter from the county prosecutor dated Feb. 2004 reads, “Treat the individual lot owners as if they were on land located outside the campground.”
In addition, Butts disputes the claim that the Hidden Lakes Board is not trying to prevent individual land owners from accessing their property.
“They are locking out gate cards,” he said. While the board representatives acknowledged that they are locking out gate cards, they shared that it was only those residents who have not paid their assessments, [and] that they can stop at the gate and security will let them in.
Residents say the guard is not always there.
The Board representatives state that the guard can be called on a radio.
Residents say that the wait time can be excessive.
Butts alleges that he has attempted to pay his assessments in installments but he refuses because he and others have been asked to put his property up as collateral.
“I have $52,000 invested in my property and I was told that for a $980 debt, I had to put my property up for collateral? I am not putting my property up for collateral money.”
Butts held a Property owners rights committee meeting recently where board members and property owners were invited. The meeting room was packed with residents.
Board member and resident Dan Fowler disputed Butts claim that payments were not being accepted for assessments.
“Nobody is refusing money, Dale,” he said. “You can go up and pay $100 any time you want. Nobody is going to refuse it.”
“They did,” replied Butts.
“They are not mortgage brokers,” yelled one resident. “That is illegal!”
“They do a lot of things illegal, like you pay $117 per lot for water then they shut it off in the winter and not let you have more without charging you,” exclaimed a resident.
Residents cited a long list of complaints about the current board’s handling of the campground, such as not fixing a bridge that needs repaired, not keeping up abandoned properties, and chaining the gate to the pool most of the summer.
“We do need people to pay their assessments so they can fix things here,” yelled one resident.
“I agree with you,” replied Butts, “We need people to pay their assessments, everybody should pay, but if you mistreat people and bully them and try to take their property, they are not going to pay.”
“You are going to have issues with anyone in authority unless you learn to work with them,” stated another resident.
Residents claim that the current board is “illegal” as they have “not held an election in several years.
“Each time one of us applies to be a board member, they find us ‘ineligible’ then appoint whoever they want.”
Butts and Duane Spray, another former board member and resident, closed the meeting by asking residents if they wished to volunteer to be on the board.
“We want to put up people to let the property owners vote on,” exclaimed Spray. “The current board is dysfunctional, the roads are a mess, the pool is closed half the time, the water line has been cut to the clubhouse, and there is a board member that said we will never use this clubhouse in the winter again because there will never be water here again – and he is sitting right here. That is a breach of fiduciary duty and ground for removal. Is that what we want to do? We will come back and have another meeting, we will remove all of them. This is business. It’s time to turn this association around.
The crowd erupted with applause and a line of people signed up to do so.
Reach Donna Carver at 419-946-3010, ext. 1804 or on Twitter @MorrCoSentinel.