Denny Christenson, president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, has been watching today’s public auction of 60 state-owned lakefront cabin sites with interest. “We’re in the 5 o’clock session,” he said. “I’m encouraged.” When the first batch all went for appraised value, he said, “There were many happy lessees.”
Lessees, who rent the ground under the cabins from the state but build and own the improvements on them, have had “a lot of frustration,” he said, because of the fits and starts of state policy on the sites. All those in the auction today were earlier signed up for land exchanges, but the state Land Board canceled all the exchanges. “The process has been confusing and frustrating,” Christenson said. “It totally changed course at the end of last year, so there was lots of concern that the state would not follow through with the auction.”
Don Morris of Chewelah came to watch the auction today out of curiosity; his Priest Lake cabin is on a deeded site that he owns, so he’s not affected, but he used to own one on a state lease. “I’ve been on the lake since I was 15 years old,” Morris said. He said he was “a little surprised” that there was no competitive bidding on one of the cabin sites in the first batch that only had a $45,000 improvement value, because someone could have picked up the whole thing for less than $400,000. “A lot of the people that have been on the lake forever don’t want people to lose their places,” he said. “I kinda thought there might be more investors come in and try to snag some of these properties.” The real-estate company, Corbett Bottles, handling the auction “certainly did a good job” advertising it, Morris said.
When he bought his cabin in state leased land in 1972, it had a 99-year lease and the rent was $100 a year. That soon changed; the lease term dropped to 10 years, and the rent started going up. “I could just see that the price was going to get too much,” Morris said, so when he had a chance to buy a cabin on land he could own outright instead, he did it. Asked if it was worth the drive to watch the auction today, Morris said, “As soon as it’s done, I’m going to the lake.”