BOISE – Priest Lake cabin owners who object to skyrocketing appraisals on the state-owned land under their lake homes can request new appraisals, the state Land Board decided Tuesday. If they object to those, they can appeal.
The catch: Once the new values are set, the leases for the cabin sites again would be offered up for potential bids from others. And for owners who are already part of pending land exchanges with 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 “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. Idaho is moving toward getting out of the cabin-site rental business. 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 leases at all state-owned cabin sites. Just five bids were received, four for 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, called the state’s move away from cabin-site renting “the smartest decision this Land Board has made in a long time.”
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