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Two Maine Beach Campgrounds Face Uncertainty

June 6, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

No one yet knows how a new direct connector road from Route 1 to York Beach along Main’s coast will affect the small coastal village of Short Sands, but town planners are already gearing up for prospective new development by controlling zoning in the 300-plus vacant acres surrounding the new road and York’s Wild Kingdom, seacoastonline.com reported.

Campgrounds comprise two large land holdings in the area. The commercial land is vulnerable to sale, as attested by the two campground owners this week who said they each fielded offers this year to sell their properties. Both told the potential buyers they were not interested, they said.

Judy Woods, owner of Burnette’s Campground, said she didn’t know what type of use was intended when a man offered to buy the estimated 150-site campground located next to York’s Wild Kingdom on Railroad Avenue. Every year she and her husband, David Woods, get offers to sell, she said.

“This will always be a campground,” David Woods said. “We have a lot of families who come here.”

The campground has been in his family for years, according to Woods, who has said he intends to have his children carry on that tradition.

Up the street off Main Street, York Beach Camper Park owner Diane Spear said she told a potential buyer this year to get back into his car when he told her, “‘everything has a price,'” she said.

Spear owns four acres of 46 campsites, and 58 adjacent acres of backland next to York’s Wild Kingdom. The backland is close to the planned new town road but will not directly abut it.

York Beach Camper Park has been in her family for more than 100 years, said Spear, who now runs it with her daughter, Jennifer, 23. It doesn’t make a ton of money, she said, but added she would never sell it nor the back acreage.

“We love all our customers,” she said. “I don’t want to. I don’t have neighbors or houses; we’re happy.”

Both Burnette’s and York Beach Camper Park are within walking distance to Short Sands Beach.

Other oceanfront campgrounds in the area include Cape Neddick Oceanside Camping, which rents tent space nightly and only seasonal space to RVs; and Libby’s and Eaton’s, campgrounds across Route 1A from each other near Long Sands Beach.

The campground owners call each other when they have no space left to rent, Spear said. Too often, she added, she directs people and tourist dollars north to Wells because all area campgrounds are full, she said.

Another camper park near the beach is Flagg’s RV Resort on Webber Road near Long Sands Beach. The potential buyer for her park was from Flagg’s, Spear said.

A national company bought the camper park a few years ago. This year, Flagg’s sent eviction notices to some of its seasonal RV owners as the resort converts seasonal leased sites to space for its own rental cottages. The cottages offer higher-end accommodations that rent weekly for an estimated $1,499, compared to the estimated $5,000 one seasonal camper at Flagg’s pays. No one at Flagg’s has returned requests for comment.

Former Flagg’s campers have requested space at other campgrounds in York, but as seasonal space is in high demand, many have gone to Wells, according to those interviewed.

The new model for campgrounds is to have more space available to those looking to stay for the entire season, according to Rick Abare, executive director of the Maine Campground Owners Association in Lewiston. This model is increasing, as the “camping population has been aging,” he said.

The sale of campground property for other commercial use has not been a factor the last few years due to the weak economy, he said. In fact, campground owners in the association reported a 10% to 15% business increase last year due to vacationers looking for a less expensive alternative and to last summer’s great weather, Abare said.

Yet, “as the economy turns around, moving in that direction is possible,” he said. “The industry is an aging population. Therefore, if you don’t have children to pass the campground on to, (selling) could be the alternative. If they are a developer, they may well want to build a condominium experience there.”

For at least a year, the York Planning Board has been studying zoning for the 300-plus undeveloped acres surrounding and including York’s Wild Kingdom, and the proposed road, to determine what can be built there. Wetlands will determine much of that, board members have said. Voters approved the road, and a new police station to be built off of it, May 21.

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