Open forum puts ESHA membership onto common wavelength!
In the beginning
The Estonian Children’s Summer Camp Jõekääru (Camp JK) in Udora, ON has been “in business” for over 55 years and the “Estonian Summer Homes Association” (ESHA) has been around for just about as long.
Land acquisition and infrastructure development of Camp JK were funded through the subdivision and sale of approximately 160 building lots. These lots were severed from the periphery of the original Camp JK farm property and were sold to fellow Estonian post-war immigrants in the early 1950s, for development into private cottages, a.k.a. summer homes. A greenbelt of open space, or parkland, was retained as a buffer between the Camp JK facilities and the private summer home properties.
ESHA was formed during this subdivision process, as a means for property owners to provide ongoing financial and moral support for the operation of the summer camp and to also serve as a local residents’ association. More specifically, in addition to maintaining its local roadways and boulevards, ESHA has shared property tax and maintenance costs with Camp JK for the parklands, on a 50/50 basis since year-one. In turn, all paid-up members of ESHA are granted access privileges to these parklands when Camp JK is not in session.
In the formative years, almost all property owners were members of ESHA, as virtually all were of Estonian heritage with a vested interest in the continued long-term success of Camp JK. As properties changed hands in the ensuing five decades, Estonian ownership of the summer home properties has declined and is approaching 50%. Urban sprawl and rapid price escalation in the GTA has transformed Udora and its environs into an increasingly appealing community for permanent residences.
At a crossroads
The ESHA constitution and by-laws are in Estonian and its business is conducted in Estonian. Thereby a large proportion of potential ESHA members are excluded from participating effectively in the business and activities of ESHA. Translation of these core documents and conducting business in the local language would surely go a long way to addressing this issue.
However ESHA’s dual objectives, that of residents’ association and that of Camp JK supporter are the cause of much confusion and misunderstanding among current ESHA members, let alone among the growing group of non-Estonian property owners. While membership in a residents’ association should appeal to most property owners, the majority of non-Estonian property owners have no affiliation or association with the history of Camp JK or aspirations for its continued success. Currently only 78 property owners (of a potential 160) are paid up members of ESHA.
Compounding earlier confusion are questions surrounding the ownership, usage privileges and financial obligations related to the parklands among property owners; whether Estonian or non-Estonian; whether members of ESHA or not.
In search of a common understanding
The current ESHA executive has been working diligently for well over a year, to understand and unravel these issues. Part of their research has included seeking professional advice on what options are available and the ramifications of each.
On Sunday September 27 all current ESHA members were invited to an information session in the Dining Hall of Camp JK, so that the executive could provide an update and members could ask questions. Because the objective of this session was to share information, no votes were planned and none were expected. The primary goals were to inform and clarify as well as to dispel recent rumours and innuendo.
President Eevi Novek invited all gathered to help themselves to a cup of hot coffee and some nibbles as she welcomed and thanked everyone for attending. She outlined the objectives of the session and then turned the floor over to Martin Pede, a fellow member of the ESHA executive. Martin presented a comprehensive power-point slide show highlighting how ESHA has evolved to the current scenario. He went on to outline current issues, what the executive has learned and what they are proposing,
Throughout his presentation Martin welcomed questions and despite the early Sunday morning start, the gathered crowd had plenty to ask; truly the sign of an interested and engaged membership. After a healthy two-hour presentation and discussion, the membership seemed to have reached common understanding. Despite the commitment to no voting, a show of hands did confirm that the overwhelming majority of ESHA members present, supported continued investigation of the options presented with a view to a Special General Meeting of ESHA to vote on potential options, perhaps as early as November 2009. Following adjournment, lively discussion continued in small clusters.
Key points from the ESHA presentation and subsequent discussion are:
• Deeds of the private summer home lots make no mention of the parklands and bestow no ownership rights or usage privileges of these parklands to property owners.
• While ESHA has a 50% ownership stake in the parklands (with Camp JK owning the other 50%) any proceeds from sale of the parklands, either by design or through dissolution of ESHA, are intended to flow to an Estonian charitable or philanthropic organization and not to property owners, as spelled out in the ESHA constitution and by-laws.
• Individual ESHA members are not meant to receive any monetary benefit or gain from any potential ESHA land sale transactions or from the ESHA treasury upon dissolution or at any other time.
• ESHA is signatory to a land access agreement with Camp JK, whereby paid-up ESHA members are granted access privileges to the shared parklands at times when Camp JK is not in session.
• ESHA members value the current parkland access privileges and want this access privilege to continue regardless of the outcome of any possible organizational realignment.
• ESHA members value and cherish the peace and tranquility of the parklands and fundamentally oppose any potential development or further subdivision of these lands.
• The parklands are zoned Rural, which makes potential subdivision or development of the parklands extremely challenging and likely very costly.
• Current ESHA members wholeheartedly support the on-going operation of a fiscally responsible and culturally sound Camp JK.
Where to from here
From the eight potential scenarios presented by the ESHA executive, the two most feasible and logical ones address the need to acknowledge the two significantly different objectives of the current ESHA.
Priority one is to establish a new independent Ratepayers Organization whose primary focus is to advocate on behalf of all property owners in the Camp JK subdivision and to ensure roads, boulevards and other subdivision lands are maintained at an acceptable standard. The target membership for this new organization is all 160 property owners and the organization’s language of business would be English, in recognition of current realities.
Secondly, maintain ESHA as custodian and 50% owner of the parklands in the short term, while pursuing opportunities to amalgamate the ESHA and Camp JK parkland ownership positions into some form of single charitable entity thereby minimizing property taxes while ensuring the parklands remain pristine open space in support of long-term Camp JK objectives. This scenario would include an arrangement whereby individual property owners, who fulfill their obligation (as yet to be defined) to the new charitable entity, would be granted access and usage privileges to the parklands at times when Camp JK is not in session.
The ESHA executive shared information and options, facilitated open discussion of the issues and proposed a seemingly feasible long-term solution to the currently challenging situation. If all goes according to plan, the result would be an inclusive Ratepayers Organization, long-term protection of the parklands for the good of Estonian Camp JK and continued enjoyment of these parklands by property owners, who so desire. Kudos to the ESHA executive! We eagerly await the upcoming Special General Meeting.
N.B. Eestikeelne artikkel ilmub järgmise nädala lehes.
Insightful “Estonian Summer Homes Association” meeting