Thursday March 14, 2013

WILMINGTON -- As the Planning Commission works on completing its latest zoning map, which has been years in the making, interested parties have brought up an idea to create a resort district on Haystack property.

"I started showing up at the Planning Commission work session meetings in the last few weeks," said Ben Joyce, a licensed land surveyor in Wilmington. "And I thought I'd throw it out there to create a resort district."

On March 12, Joyce told the Wilmington Planning Commission that the proposed resort district would be "consistent with (the Haystack plan) from the 1970s," that the Development Review Board approved. He also said that by making a section of Haystack a resort district, it may lessen the load on the DRB, because it would require less review from the board.

When the Planning Commission asked Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Adam Grinold how he felt about the proposal, he put his trust in the Planning Commission. He thought that the Deerfield Valley and the Wilmington downtown village were two separate entities, but without one, the other wouldn't prosper.

State statutes have required projects in the area now to go through the DRB process. If a resort district was created, the DRB would not be included in some new construction plans.

Andrew Schindel, vice chairman of the DRB, attended the special meeting and read a letter from DRB Chairwoman Nicki Steel on the proposed district.

"I do not understand how the resort district would allow for reduced lot sizes and why this is something they want and how it will be used," he read. "For many aspects, I feel that the more eyes that are reviewing a project, the more the town's interests can be protected. I would be worried that if more is done as permitted use ... the original agreement could be lost."

Schindel went on to read the rest of the letter. Steel had written of the DRB spending time during 2005 and 2006, getting all the information together for Haystack projects.

"I see that retail and restaurants are permitted uses. Does this mean that anybody, anywhere, in the new district could build a restaurant as a permitted use? There are privately owned lots in the district. Do we want retail or restaurants on manned roads without, say, any review? Or a person could build a hotel on the area across from Coldbrook from the main entrance in an area that is all single dwellings? I am not wishing any bad luck to the present owners, but we all need to remember that this area has gone through various owners who started out with very good intentions, but in the end have left the town holding the bag. I would err on the side of caution."

"From the little I've seen, it seems way too generous for one business owner and really takes the town out of much of the oversight. I would be very cautious on this," Steel's letter read.

Schindel said the board is not looking for less work.

"I think it is all part of the due process required," he said. "You're talking about people's property rights here, whether you're the owner or an abutter. And everybody's rights have to be protected."

"What we're trying to do on the mountain is really speak to the marketplace that's willing to belong to our concept today," said Haystack owner Jim Barnes.

He discussed plans of building a barn-style house as well as sugar houses "that fit into that land" and how he has scrapped plans for building a water park on site at the Hermitage hotel by the mountain. Barnes said after speaking with some equity partners and others who bought into the Hermitage Club, it no longer seemed like it fit in with their vision.

Like Grinold, Barnes saw the benefit of having the valley and downtown village for visitors of Haystack.

He also mentioned his support of expanding the Mount Snow Airport, which hasn't been in service for years.

"I feel that this will allow for more activity to the valley," he said. "And real estate will become more valuable."

Barnes thought the airport would allow visitors to fly in for mid-week corporate events and there'd be more access to Deerfield Valley in general.

The Planning Commission was worried that if Barnes ended up moving on and leaving the area, the next owner may not be as altruistic.

"A large commercial district is not something we're trying to develop up there," he said.

Barnes talked of having retail and restaurants in that area, which he thought appropriate for the district.

A member of the Planning Commission asked Barnes what he thought about someone else coming into the proposed district with perhaps, other plans.

"What if it were your worst nightmare? Would you put caps on how many things could be up there?"

"I'm traditionally against large government oversight over free enterprise," said Barnes. "With that being said, I think there should be guidance. I can't envision having Manchester on top of Haystack mountain."

He said that over the past 14 months, over six people had become equity members of the Hermitage Club.

"I'm hoping this project goes on and on, beyond my time," said Barnes.

Bob Rubin, who works with Barnes, said there are plans in the works from Coldbrook Road to the top of the ski area. He also thought that there were hurdles that his team would face whether or not the discussed area was in a resort district with the Act 250 process.

His ideas included putting a brand new lift up for the lower mountain as well as enhancing snow-making. Rubin also liked the idea of being able to make improvements.

"If it's a duck, call it a duck," he said. "Let it be a resort area."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.