Entrance to Pleasant Beach. DON RICKERS

Sherkston Shores’ buy-out of neighbouring campground displaces long-time residents

A David and Goliath story is playing out on Niagara’s south shore, and it looks like the Philistine giant will prevail.

This March, Pleasant Beach Campgrounds, which includes rustic cabins and over a hundred resident-owned trailers on its 16-acre site, was purchased by next-door neighbour Sherkston Shores, which is planning to expand its operations onto the recently acquired property. Shortly thereafter, seasonal residents of the campground received notices that they must remove their trailers by the end of October. Some of the park inhabitants have been spending May through October at the campground for over 30 years, and they are hurt and frustrated at the sudden turn of events.

Sherkston Shores is owned by Sun RV Resorts, a division of Sun Communities, a publicly traded real estate investment trust that invests in manufactured housing communities, recreational vehicle resorts, and marinas. The company was founded in 1975 in Southfield, Michigan, and had revenue of almost $1.3 billion in 2019, assets of $7.8 billion, and some 3100 employees. The company owns interests in 562 recreational communities in the United States and Canada, consisting of some 151,600 developed park sites.

Pleasant Beach was in a state of disrepair until new owners, Tami and Kurt Pederson, purchased the property in 2015 and redeveloped it. Park patrons said that the Pedersons assured them that they had no plans to sell the park, and consequently many residents made expensive additions to their trailers, which is now money down the drain.

Angie Geiss grew up in Fenwick, and loved visiting Pleasant Beach in her youth. She said it used to be a well-known surfing area. Geiss purchased a trailer in the campground five years ago.

“I’m an artist, so I turned it into a ‘shabby-chic’ project, put a fair bit of money into it, added a sunroom,” she said. “Many of the trailers have been stationary for years, and would be very difficult to move, and almost impossible to resell. About 150 residents in here are being displaced in the middle of a pandemic. We just feel so betrayed.”

Geiss said that the campground is currently a construction zone, with bulldozers already in action clearing the way for Sherkston Shores’ growth.

“Watching and listening to dump trucks daily pouring loads of gravel over once beautiful green space that used to be recreational homes, it’s heartbreaking,” she said tearfully.

Dominic Tucci and Teresa Constanzo. DON RICKERS

Myrna Houston is 69 and originally from Hamilton. She has been a trailer park resident for 18 years. Her normal pattern was to live in her trailer at Pleasant Beach from late spring to early fall, then stay with relatives or couch-surf with friends the rest of the year.

“I just got my trailer out of there. I found another campground in Jordan. I did tons of landscaping [at Pleasant Beach]. It cost me a lot,” she said. “There was no warning, no notice. It’s all about the money for them.”

Kevin Beatty is 31 and from Buffalo. He has been coming to the campground his entire life to stay in his family trailer, and said that years ago many American families had trailers in the park. With the borders closed due to the pandemic, he is accruing late fees, he said, and doesn’t know if he’ll be able to arrange to move his trailer. It may end up being bulldozed.

“The couple who owned the campground, they were telling people that ‘We’re here for the long haul, we’re not going to sell out.’ And that kind of gave a lot of park patrons the incentive to upgrade the trailers, add decks and landscaping. It gave them false hope,” said Beatty.

He said that the park has been a huge part of his life.

“It’s really hard on me. The last time I walked out of that place, I didn’t expect I’d never be back for another campfire, or to spend another restful night in my trailer.”

Teresa Constanzo and Dominic Tucci, from Toronto, have been camping at Pleasant Beach Campground for many years, and three years ago purchased a 1999 model trailer from the Pedersons for $13,000. After a few weeks, Dominic noticed a lot of mold in the floors, and planned to redo them the following season. However, they instead decided to purchase a brand new trailer for $43,000.

“Last year we hardly saw Tami and Kurt at the park. We all found that odd,” said Constanzo. “They wouldn’t answer emails, texts, or phone calls from any of us. You can imagine how we all felt, not knowing what was going on.”

Then they drove by the park last November and noticed stakes and surveying flags in the ground. They had a realtor friend look into it, and he found out that the park had been sold.

“Everyone knew Sherkston Shores has wanted the park for decades,” said Constanzo, “so this was a great opportunity for [the Pedersons] to cash in and make millions. If they knew they were selling, why wouldn’t they have told us? Why let everyone upgrade their trailers? We have to pay $1500 to have our trailer moved to another park, and so far we can’t find anything in the Erie area. This all could have been avoided if they were open and honest with us.”

Constanzo added that “Tami wouldn’t allow people to sell their trailer themselves. They had to go through her, so that she would make money on the deal.”

Children at play in the park’s playground. DON RICKERS

The park has about 100 private trailers on wooded lots at present, said Constanzo, but Sherkston Shores has plans to more than double the capacity to 250 trailers.

“I guess they just want to squeeze in as many units as possible to maximize on the profit,” said Tucci. “We were going to stay forever. We saw it as a long-term investment.”

Another trailer owner in the park is Letizia Cook, a hairstylist in Port Colborne, who lives in Stoney Creek. She has been spending summer weekends and holidays with her kids at the campground for five years. She initially bought a used trailer from the Pedersons five years ago, but upgraded to a newer trailer in 2019.

“We love the community vibe here. My kids ride their bikes, they play with the friends they’ve met here. They are outside, and happy. There’s no wi-fi here, which is wonderful,” she said.

Cook stresses the difference between the Pleasant Beach campground, and the Sherkston Shores property next door.

“It’s just row after row of trailers over there—no trees, no greenery.”

Her friend and neighbour in the park, Carla Rivas, is from Mississauga, and also spends practically the entire summer at the campground with her kids.

We wanted to keep this a family lifestyle. We hoped our children would grow up here and inherit the trailer and campsite.

“We wanted to keep this a family lifestyle. We hoped our children would grow up here and inherit the trailer and campsite,” said Rivas.

Asked about the camp’s sale, Rivas responded, “It was a complete surprise. There was no communication at all. If only they had approached us, maybe we could all have come together as a community and helped with the costs.”

Rivas is also angry that Sherkston Shores and Sun Communities has not allowed them more time to get organized and move their trailers. She would have appreciated at least another year’s notice.

A particular sore point, say the residents, is that the tree canopy will be removed to make way for the huge influx of new trailers.

Ruth Floris, in blue shirt at right, and her family from Chile. DON RICKERS

“What will it be like without the trees to block the wind that comes off the water? What about the shade?” said Cook. “And don’t forget the wildlife—all the little animals that have been scattered with this redevelopment. An ecosystem is being disrupted.”

“There are a lot of people here with roots in Chile, Portugal, Italy,” said Cook. “They are so friendly. Everyone smiles and waves hello. It’s just a nice, safe community.”

Ruth Floris is from Chile originally, and spends the summer at Pleasant Beach Campground with her retired parents and other family members.

“People are very depressed and sad” about the park closing, she said. “It’s so safe. You just let your kids play. No worries.”

Sherkston Shores offered her a new unit in the redeveloped park for $130,000, plus $13,000 in fees for the season, she said, which is completely unaffordable for her.

Tami Pederson, who with her husband and other family members now operates a restaurant at Sherkston called Rudders, agreed to speak with the Voice. She said that there were a number of issues that were making it tough for the campground to be sustainable and family-operated over the long term.

“The campground is something that we would have loved to run for a lot longer, but with pandemic issues, and the potential closure of Pleasant Beach, we weren’t optimistic,” said Pederson.

“Some residents told us if the campground was closed due to Covid, they wouldn’t pay their fees. That was really scary for us. We definitely couldn’t face a second year like the last one…we had all our eggs in one basket. So it was something that we needed to move on from, unfortunately.”

A couple of other roadblocks made it financially unfeasible, said Pederson. Small business taxation was an issue, but the final straw was that the provincial Ministry of the Environment told them that they had to completely redo the campground’s septic system, which would have been prohibitively expensive.

“And with new government rules, we’d have to evict about half the people that were in there just to accommodate this new septic bed. If we raised prices, we would anger the residents. My husband and I just couldn’t see it as being a sustainable operation,” said Pederson.

Tony Breton, Regional Vice President for Canadian operations at Sun Communities and Sun RV Resorts, told the Voice that “as part of Sun’s acquisition of Pleasant Beach, we plan on improving the infrastructure and overall experience for guests and vacation homeowners. We have no plans to build additional RV sites that would impact current site space for guests. At this time, we are working on incentives for our current seasonal RVers to return once the property is reopened, and look forward to welcoming back our seasonal guests to enjoy the property.” Breton added that “our tree compensation program ensures that should a tree get cut down for maintenance and development purposes, more will be planted.”

At this time, we are working on incentives for our current seasonal RVers to return once the property is reopened, and look forward to welcoming back our seasonal guests to enjoy the property

Alex Pedersen, a corporate communications officer for the City of Port Colborne (no relation to the former owners of the park), said that the sale of Pleasant Beach Campground was a private transaction and the City of Port Colborne was not involved. “While City Council and staff hope the existing and future residents of Pleasant Beach Campground are treated fairly by the new owners, there is no municipal oversight of campground operations,” said Pedersen.

Geiss said that some residents had been told that if they didn’t pay their dues by May 15, they were going to be seeing high interest charges accrue.

“People were scrambling to leave,” she said. “It’s heartless what’s happened. Some residents were first-generation immigrants, and were afraid to speak up.”

Geiss said she is investigating a lawsuit, premised on “bad faith.”

She will miss the majestic tree canopy and natural beauty of the site.

“This is a multicultural community, and a wonderful wooded setting. Sherkson Shores, by comparison, is all pavement.”

“[The Pedersons] told us a hundred times, ‘We’re never going to sell,’” said Geiss. “Now they just ignore my phone calls. What Sherkston Shores is doing is all legal—we don’t fit into the landlord tenant act, so we have very limited rights. But it’s just cruel.”

 

 

1 COMMENT

  1. One could be forgiven for wondering how American Sun Communities and Sun RV Resorts missed buying it back in 2015, unless they knew the residents could have rallied to collectively take it themselves instead of letting SCSRVR get it, and so SCSRVR found the Pedersons to deiliberately become temporary owners as “foxes in sheeps’ clothing”, thus making everybody believe the wooded campground safe, to invest their monies in personal upgrades instead of saving the campground from SCSRVR, and then not having the financial ability to save the campground a few years later. Very deviously evil.

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