WELLFLEET — The select board has signed a purchase-and-sale agreement for the 72-year-old Maurice’s Campground and its 21.25 acres of land for $6.5 million. The board presented the purchase as a significant step in addressing the lack of affordable housing here.
“We really need to start taking some big swings in terms of housing, because there’s nowhere for anyone to live,” select board chair Ryan Curley said the day after the agreement was announced. “It’s beyond a critical need.”
The board said a special town meeting on Sept. 10 would consider authorizing the purchase. If it is approved, a planning committee would be appointed to study future uses of the property at 80 State Highway, near the Eastham town line.
Maurice’s has been run by the three Gauthier brothers — John, Martin, and Maurice Jr. — for the last 45 years. “We’ve been in this business since it started,” said John Gauthier, who at 68 is the youngest brother. They took on the responsibility of running the business from their parents, Maurice and Ann, who started it (previously as Ann’s Motor Court) in 1949 after the family found themselves settling down in the woods of Wellfleet.
“It started with the idea of family,” John said, “though none of us have children and we’re not going to die on the property.” The brothers started to look to sell Maurice’s last summer and were quickly approached by both developers and campground operators.
“They didn’t meet our criteria pricewise or the vision for doing it,” he said. “So many of these people come in and the first thing they do is double the rates. Or they’re looking to build trophy homes.”
The sale to the town would include the 21.25 acres with all buildings and improvements, including cabins, mobile homes, travel trailers, and a store. The parcel, between Route 6 and the Cape Cod Rail Trail, is assessed at nearly $2.7 million, according to the town assessor’s database.
The brothers were approached by the town, through housing authority member and real estate agent Kathleen Nagle. “We were willing to work with them,” Gauthier said. “This is a win-win.”
The agreement stipulates a six-year transition period during which the property would continue to be a campground. It could be run by the town with municipal staff in charge, or it could be leased to another campground operator.
“We didn’t want to cut short all the people who have been with us all these years,” said Gauthier. “We want to give them a chance to wind down.”
Nagle said town officials felt comfortable agreeing to the transition period because “typically it takes that long — the town buys it, creates the committee, the committee decides what they’re going to do, then the permitting and the processing.” She cited the examples of the Walsh property in Truro and the T-Time property in Eastham. Both were purchased in 2019 and planning for their use is still in the early stages.
The town will borrow to pay for the purchase. The estimated cost for the owner of a median-priced house would be less than $80 a year, based on a 30-year level payment bond at 4 percent interest, according to Nagle. She worked with Harry Terkanian of the Affordable Housing Trust and the select board in negotiations with the Gauthiers that started in July 2020. The town is exploring alternatives to reduce or eliminate the increase in property taxes, including grants, ARPA and infrastructure funds, net revenues from running the campground, and short-term rental tax proceeds.
“We feel pretty confident that we’ll bring in revenue from running the campground that will reduce the tax,” Nagle said. More details are promised before the September special town meeting.
By state standards, Wellfleet’s proportion of affordable units in its housing stock is currently the lowest on Cape Cod at 2.5 percent. The state’s minimum standard is 10 percent. The median price of Wellfleet houses sold in the last six months was $826,000, according to a select board press release.
Each summer Maurice’s accommodates 125 campers. Some are families on weekend getaways, and others are seasonal workers, like the J-1 visa students hired by local businesses.
“I saw that we’re serving a critical need,” said John Gauthier. “There isn’t a day that goes by now that I don’t get a call from someone saying, ‘I don’t know where to go. I’m going to be homeless.’ These are hardworking people with good jobs, and they just can’t find a place.”
Many families look for housing for months to no avail, Curley said. “When they can’t find anything, they usually move off the Cape,” he said. “We need to be able to retain people. It’s impacting services people rely on, from fire department staff to home health aides.”
The $6.5 million price amounts to $305,882 per acre for the land and buildings. “We believe it’s a good value, knowing what other towns have paid to purchase properties,” Nagle said. A “frequently asked questions” memo she wrote stated that Eastham paid $871,041 per acre for the 3.5-acre Town Center Plaza. Orleans paid $531,818 per acre for the 5.5-acre Governor Prence Inn and $928,571 per acre for the 3.5-acre Cape Cod 5 Bank property.
The Walsh property in Truro cost $72,857 per acre for nearly 70 acres bought in 2019.
“I’m nervous and I’m so excited,” Nagle said. “It could be such a game-changer for the town of Wellfleet. I just hope we don’t let it slip through our fingers. It’s not a deal until it’s closed.”
Until September, the Gauthiers will enjoy their last summer season running the business together. “That’s what all three of us are proudest of,” said John, “and my parents would be, too.”