City officials at odds with a Rochester campground-turned-residential park are pushing to end the park’s ability to provide year-round residency and requiring a license for the campground owner’s tradition of serving free meals to residents.
Amazon Park’s unconventional 95-unit operation has seen a number of disputes with the city largely centered around the park’s capability to operate year-round. The city has declared that Amazon Park may only operate seasonally, while the owners of Amazon Park have stood by their claim that the city approved of their year-round operating many years ago.
The park originated as a seasonal campground back in 1977 when Warren Weeden and his son, John Weeden, had first envisioned the park as a summer camping destination. The Weedens shifted their focus a few years later to establish full-time living for people, and they were granted approval in 1981 by Rochester’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to build permanent cabins.
In 1983, the city ordered the Weedens to stop promoting the park as a year-round facility. In 1984, according to court documents, the city appeared to soften its position when code enforcement officer Thomas Kittredge wrote a letter recognizing that the city had “no further objection to the year-round use of the campground.” Since Warren Weeden’s passing, John Weeden and his wife Debra have had ownership of the park and John serves as the landlord and as a minister. Over the years, the park has become a home for people who are unable to secure housing as well as those who enjoy the park’s close-knit community.
Despite the letter from Kittredge, the city of Rochester went on to issue a series of violation notifications in 2015 that included the park’s continued acceptance of permanent residents. The city argued that “park model trailers are not designed for permanent residency,” according to Seacoast Online’s Brian Early. The city also claims that the letter from Kittredge is invalid because the decision-making is under the authority of the planning board and zoning board. During a visit to the park in 2016, city officials said that some of the residences fail to meet codes required for year-round occupancy.
The matter went to court and Strafford County Superior Court Judge Mark Howard ruled in favor of the Weedens in February 2017, noting that for decades the city of Rochester hadn’t taken issue with year-round operation of the park following Kittredge’s letter in 1984 signaling an end to the city’s objections. Howard wrote “that Amazon Park is only approved for seasonal use is unsupported by the record and belied by its own agreement with the Weedens in 1984.”
The ruling stated that “Between 1984, when the city represented to Warren Weeden that it had no objection to year-round use, and 2015, a period of over 30 years, the city did not seek to enjoin or enforce the nature of the Weedens’ use of the property.” The ruling added that the city posed no objections when the Weedens obtained state funding in 2013 to secure town water at the park.
The city has appealed Howard’s ruling, with city attorney Terence O’Rourke rebuking the order as “outside the judicial mainstream.” The city also filed a motion for Howard to recuse himself from future proceedings and in its motion for recusal argued that Howard’s order “contains alternative facts seen through the prism of alternative law leading to a conclusion which could not be reached by analyzing the actual facts under the actual law. Howard denied the motion, writing that “The city’s disagreement with court’s findings of fact and rulings of law presents no substantial basis to question the court’s impartiality and fairness.” O’Rourke described the park as a “cesspool” and the Weedens as “slumlords who take “advantage of vulnerable populations and their desperation,” according to court records.