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McLaughlin Garden acquisition draws controversy
GROWING GARDENS— 103 Main St. in South Paris was sold to McLaughlin Garden & Homestead, ending two months of speculation on whether Family Dollar would move into the location.
PARIS— A historic farmhouse in Paris has been sold to neighboring McLaughlin Garden & Homestead, ending months of speculation whether Family Dollar would build a retail location on the site.
Earlier in the summer, property owner Koriene Low signed a purchase-and-sale deal with Hunt Acquisitions, a Tampa Bay, Fla.-based commercial real estate company, that would have allowed Family Dollar, a client of Hunt's, to build a new Family Dollar retail store.
Instead, the property was sold to the McLaughlin Garden Foundation, which oversees the McLaughlin Garden & Homestead, on Oct. 17.
That sale has not come without controversy.
Koriene Low inherited 103 Main Street after the death of her mother and father, Matti and Etta Korhonen, in 2009. In three separate warranty deeds recorded in the Oxford County Registry of Deeds, Low granted the farmhouse and lands to the McLaughlin Foundation, which oversees the Garden, on Oct. 18.
However, that sale came as a surprise. Reached by telephone, Geoff and Koriene maintained that the deal struck with Hunt's included a "verbal understanding" that it was against the couple's wish to sell to the Foundation and no one at either Hunt's or Family Dollar intimated that the sale had dissolved.
Instead, two days before the sale becoming public, Koriene said she opened legal papers to find that the property had been turned over to the McLaughlin Foundation.
Low was shocked. The Minot resident said that she was not informed that Family Dollar, the original buyer, had dropped out of the deal, which had subsequently been offered to the McLaughlin Foundation.
Based on her father's wishes, Low on several occasions refused to sell to the foundation, and when Hunt's purchased the property, representatives asked her if she would turn the property over to the Garden. She refused again.
Situated at 103 Main St. in Paris, the property abuts the McLaughlin Garden's & Homestead and is easily visible over a stone wall which used to serve as a division between the two sites.
After news of the original sale to Family Dollar was made public, community members voiced their concern over compromising the scenic views of the neighboring garden. Business owners were doubtful Main Street could handle the additional congestion from entering and exiting delivery trucks, a view echoed by SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts in a letter to the Paris Planning Board.
During that span, Low said neither representatives from Hunt's nor Family Dollar contacted her.
Geoff, husband of Koriene Low, claimed that members of the non-profit tried to force the couple's hand to sell the property. and, when that failed, representatives of the group tried to "bully" a neighboring restaurant into denying Family Dollar a right of way to turn delivery trucks around.
Maurice's Restaurant in South Paris was the establishment referenced in the letter. Corey Sumner, owner of Maurice's, said he initially supported the idea "for about a week", but eventually changed his view after representatives from the McLaughlin Foundation expressed concerns and warned Sumner that allowing Family Dollar trucks to use his parking lot to reverse direction would foster bad relations with the public.
Sumner agreed, and denied right-of-way access to the retailer.
"I have to do business in this town," Sumner said. "If people weren't going to come to me because I gave them the right-of-way, obviously it's not a very good business decision."
When news reached Koriene Low that Sumner's had denied access for the right-of-way, she became suspicious, but was never informed that the sale to Family Dollar would fail to go through.
Geoff Low said he believed the property was being sold to Family Dollar, not Hunt's Acquisitions.
"Family Dollar never said they couldn't do it," he said.
Helga Thurston, chairwomen of the Foundation's board of directors, did not supply a specific date as to when the McLaughlin Foundation began considering the acquisition of the neighboring lot.
"The Foundation has had a longstanding interest in the property next door as a natural extension to its original site," Thurston wrote in an email.
Reached to respond to the Low's assertion that the Foundation conspired to sabotage the sale with Family Dollar, Thurston said the deal abided by contractual stipulations agreed by the Low's.
"The South Paris Planning Board Meeting on August 13 revealed significant concerns by many elements of the community regarding the specific site selected for Family Dollar’s new store," Thurston wrote in an email.
"As an abutter to that property, we were approached by representatives of Family Dollar seeking our thoughts with respect to suitability of the development which would take place at 103 Main Street. The Foundation is pleased that a solution was found which both honored the seller's contract and provided an opportunity to preserve this unique green space and building."
Mackenzie Thompson, a member of Hunt Real Estate's Northeast Acquisition team, did not return a telephone call requesting information before press time.
According to a letter to the editor published in the Advertiser Democrat on Oct. 17, Geoff Low claimed the property had been pursued by the McLaughlin Foundation, which runs the non-profit, after Bernard McLaughlin died in 1995. The letter goes on state that members of the Foundation tried to persuade Matti Korhonen, Koriene Low's father, to sell the land. He refused.
In 2013, Town of Paris Assessors valuated the land and building on 103 Main Street at $150,500, $79,700 for the land and $70,800 for the building. Both Thurston and Winburn declined to comment on the property's selling price.
Koriene, who didn't have the sale-and-purchase agreement with her at the time, said the property was sold to Hunt's for $336,000, who in turn sold the property to the McLaughlin Foundation for $337,000.
In the 2013-14 fiscal year, the property generated $2,693.95 in taxes for the Town of Paris. McLaughlin Garden's is a non-profit and tax exempt, but Thurston was unsure whether that exemption would extend to the new acquisition.
In an email, Bryn Winburn, Public Relations Manager for Family Dollar, said the company does not disclose information on the cost of their buildings, or information on sales agreements.
"At Family Dollar, we see each new store we open as an opportunity to provide convenience and value to the neighborhoods where our customers live and work, and we look forward to serving this new community. We feel that there are many residents who would benefit from this value and convenience, and we continue to look forward to becoming a positive part of South Paris," Winburn wrote.