May 21, 2013 in Idaho

Priest Lake cabin owners can get new appraisals

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Betsy Russell photo

Idaho’s state Land Board meets on Tuesday
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – Priest Lake cabin owners who object to new Idaho appraisals that showed the state-owned land under their lake homes ballooning in value this year by an average 84 percent can request new appraisals, the state Land Board decided today, and if they object to the new values, they can appeal.

The catch: Once the new values are set, the leases for the cabin sites again would be offered up for potential conflict bids from others. And for those cabin owners who are already part of pending land exchanges aimed at trading other ground to the state so they can gain ownership of the land under their cabins, new appraisals might not be ready in time.

“People are going to have to decide what’s in their best interest,” said Chuck Lempesis, attorney for the Priest Lake State Lessees Association. But he called the Land Board’s unanimous decision today “a very positive step forward” that provides “options for our lessees who are in difficult positions.”

Idaho has long rented out lakefront lots at Priest and Payette lakes to people who built summer cabins on them; many of the Priest Lake cabin owners are from the Spokane area, and some families have had their cabins for generations.

But the land is part of the state’s endowment, which the state Constitution requires to be managed for maximum long-term returns to the endowment’s beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public schools. In recent decades, the state has struggled to hike rents for longtime cabin owners to keep up with market values for lakefront land, amid protests, lawsuits and dissension.

Now Idaho is moving toward getting out of the cabin-site rental business, in which the state owns the ground but its renters own the buildings on it. A push came from an Idaho Supreme Court decision last summer that invalidated a law protecting the renters from competitive bids at auctions each time their leases expire.

Last month, bids were invited for all state-owned cabin sites. Just five conflict bids were received, where both the current cabin owner and another party want to bid on the lease, four for cabin sites at Priest Lake, and one at Payette Lake. If someone other than the current cabin owner wins a lease at auction, they’d have to pay the current cabin owner for the building at appraised value.

Denny Christenson, president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, said, “There’ll be another go-round of the conflict auction. That’s an unfortunate consequence that will affect a few of our members.” But he said the steps the state outlined Tuesday are good overall. “Our association is very thankful that the board has listened to our concerns and that we were able to collaborate with the staff on a solution which will benefit the endowment as well as our membership,” he said.

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, who serves on the state Land Board, said, “When you have all interested parties come forward and they’ve all agreed on a path forward, that’s pretty easy for me to get behind.”

Luna said called the state’s move away from cabin-site renting “the smartest decision this Land Board has made in a long time.” He said, “We’re actually bringing this to a resolution, rather than just kicking the can down the road.”

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