November 10, 2019
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Cards Against Humanity’s breakup of Maine island stirs controversy

Courtesy of United Realty of Maine
Courtesy of United Realty of Maine
Birch Island in Lake St. George recently has been sold and renamed Hawaii 2. The 6-acre island was bought by the Chicago-based game company Cards Against Humanity, which is giving 1 square foot of the island to 250,000 people that purchased the company's seasonal mystery packages.

LIBERTY, Maine — There’s trouble in paradise, or rather on the 6-acre Lake St. George island recently renamed Hawaii 2 by its new owners, Cards Against Humanity.

The Chicago-based party game company purchased the former Birch Island last fall for $190,000 and promptly divvied it up in square-foot parcels to give to the 250,000 people who purchased Cards Against Humanity’s holiday mystery pack.

This move tickled some — especially participants who gleefully shared their plans for the island on social media platforms — but ticked off others. The latter include some property owners on Lake St. George who worry about the potential problems of having up to 250,000 new neighbors.

But that kind of extreme subdividing and the installation of a platform, shed and safe within 22 feet of the lake’s normal high-water line are in violation of Liberty’s subdivision and shoreland zoning ordinances, according to Liberty Code Enforcement Officer Donald Harriman.

Late last month, Harriman wrote to three legal entities involved with Cards Against Humanity and Hawaii 2 and gave them until April 15 to cease all commercial activity on the island, revoke the 250,000 “licenses” that grant the exclusive use of 1 square foot of land and remove the shed and platform from its present location. If this does not happen, he wrote, the town could levy fines of no less than $100 per day per violation and up to $2,500 per day per violation.

“While it is unlikely that the court would order penalties of $625,000,000 per day (250,000 multiplied by $2,500), the town will seek the maximum fines, penalties and legal fees as may be awarded by the court,” Harriman wrote in the letter dated March 31. “A remedial plan acceptable to the town must be in place on or before April 15, 2015, to avoid the filing of a land use enforcement action in court.”

The letter was sent to Cards Against Humanity LLC, Hawaii 2 LLC and Birch Island LLC. Harriman wrote that the latter two entities are believed to be affiliated with Cards Against Humanity.

As of Friday, Liberty had not received a response, according to Pam Chase, third selectman.

“The purpose of a subdivision law is to limit population density,” she said. “We didn’t feel the subdivision ordinance would allow a parcel this small to be subdivided this many times.”

She said she has heard complaints from some residents of Liberty, a town of fewer than 1,000 people that prides itself on the pristine condition of its lakes.

“A lot of folks are concerned about just how many visitors there might be,” she said. “If we only had 500 visitors that showed up in one day, that would be quite a thing for the little town of Liberty.”

Efforts Friday to contact the Cards Against Humanity agent listed in Harriman’s letter were unsuccessful.

Last December, Max Temkin, a co-creator of the company, told the Chicago Tribune that “we wanted to do something big” for the annual holiday fundraising campaign.

“We thought about trying to launch something into space or doing something visible from space,” he said. “Eventually that led us down the path of buying a private island, which is something we’ve joked about in the past.”

Cards Against Humanity sent licenses for the square foot of the island to people who purchased the $15 holiday pack and sent them a letter describing the island as wooded and uninhabited. License-holders must follow local and state laws and cannot damage or cut down any trees, the letter said.

According to Harriman, the town of Liberty considers that the licenses for use of Hawaii 2 effectively were sold and that the island “continues to be advertised and marketed.” He wrote that a race to open the safe installed on the island and remove the prizes placed inside attracted considerable attention and that over the winter some people who purchased licenses gained access to the island by crossing private property without permission of landowners. A YouTube video about bringing the safe over to the island shows it is filled with what appear to be packs of cards.

“Complaints have been made to the town and the Waldo County sheriff’s department,” he wrote. “I am unaware if the sheriff’s department or state police have issued any summonses to date.”

Efforts Friday to see what, if any, actions have been taken by the Waldo County sheriff’s office regarding trespassers were not immediately successful.

Harriman also wrote it appears Cards Against Humanity is collaborating with a business named Owlchemy Labs to promote a geocaching adventure game and will place 100 thumb drives in a tree on Hawaii 2.

“I find that an unpermitted commercial use has begun on Birch Island, in violation of the Liberty Shoreland Ordinance,” he wrote. “The entire scheme appears to be a development and/or divisions of land for profit with the possibility of intense use at various times.”

But according to a Feb. 4 post from Cards Against Humanity on the social media website tumblr.com, that wasn’t their intention. The company gave participants a license to a square foot instead of a deed to the tiny parcel of land because, “if people really owned their land, they could feasibly try to get permission to build something on it, which is not what we had in mind.”

The post — which was made public nearly two months before Harriman sent his letter — quoted Temkin as saying, “We’ll never develop the island. If someone else bought it, they’d build a summer home or a condo or something. This way, the land will be kept as a pristine piece of wilderness. We joined the local Liberty Lake Association, and we’ll work with them to deal with any issues as they come up.”



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