Hermitage Club fiscal impact analysis questioned by Planning Commission


WILMINGTON >> Planning Commission members want clarification when it comes to the Hermitage Club's growth and fiscal impact analysis.

The report says the company's plans at completion will generate nearly $6 million in education taxes annually. That would mean $47.1 million from 2015 to 2025.

"The majority of this money will not stay in Wilmington," the commission said in a letter to Vermont District 2 Environmental Coordinator April Hensel.

The commission was referring to the way educational funds are redistributed to schools throughout the state. This means that Wilmington schools will not reap much of the benefits of the Hermitage Club taxes that are paid each year.

"While receiver schools add new gymnasiums, pools and computers to make sure they can continuously justify their allocation of money, Wilmington students suffer with low quality education facilities, limited recreational facilities and limited computers. This is a grossly unfair redistribution of wealth away from the underprivileged students of Wilmington, whose families have substantially lower incomes than others in the area and in Vermont, as demonstrated in this analysis."

A partnership between school systems and the Hermitage Club was suggested by the commission so that local residents can develop skill sets necessary for taking on middle management roles associated with the company's operations. The Hermitage Club runs a private ski resort at Haystack Mountain, and a golf course and airport in the Deerfield Valley. The commission believes providing jobs with a middle-class income could assist with stabilizing or growing Wilmington's resident population.

The analysis was included as part of the Hermitage Club's Act 250 permit application as the group looks to build a 93-unit hotel north of its recently built base lodge and club house on Haystack Mountain off Fannie Hill and High Country roads in Wilmington. The document, only one of over 80 exhibits, can be found at anrweb.vt.gov/PubDocs/ANR/Planning/700002-26/Supporting Documents/Exhibit 23-Growth Impact Analysis-9-22-14.pdf.

As an interested party, the commission is requesting that Doug Kennedy from Doug Kennedy Advisors, of Norwich, clarify several sections of the analysis so members "may better understand the expected impact of this development on Wilmington."

"The Planning Commission would also like to note questions and concerns surrounding the validity of some assumptions and methods used in the analysis," the letter said.

Kennedy was hired by the Hermitage Club and his report looks at employment growth in terms of full-time equivalents, meaning "sufficient employment to keep one person in a full-time position for one year." He estimated recently that Hermitage Club employment has created approximately 109 jobs considered to be full-time equivalents. But the Planning Commission wants to see data on those who are not employed on a full-time equivalent basis and is requesting comparative data with salary estimates.

The commission, in its reading of the analysis, said the Hermitage Club does not appear to be expectant of drawing year-round population. The commission also questions whether numbers based on large public ski areas can be used for a private, limited membership ski area.

Data suggests that a 7 percent increase or decrease in migration is a reasonable amount to anticipate for resort-based jobs. A 9.5 percent rate raised eyebrows for the commission, although authors of the analysis acknowledge the number may be overstated.

"In the absence of local year-round residents to fill jobs, how do they project to fill these jobs? Are we looking at a large seasonal migrant population? From where?" the commission wrote as it asked for data on age distribution and percentage of population eligible for the workforce; current employment levels of eligible workers; plus the number of jobs available year-round versus seasonal. "Will those jobs provide a living wage to support economic growth for resident workers?"

At completion, Kennedy estimated hotel-related employment will draw approximately 84 new workers. The peak impact of the project likely will be seen in 2020 or 2021, when 111 migrants are expected to come to the area.

The commission said the analysis lacked information on the impact of natural disasters in a section where the recession was noted for having a "severe impact" on the local area.

"We respectfully suggest that it would be helpful to see plans for economic and transportation impacts of major flooding, in the absence of a river management solution," the commission wrote while also calling for more information on housing for seasonal or migratory employees.

The report said construction around the company's plans will require 23 contractors, cost $285.3 million and take 12 years to complete. The most substantial construction is expected to take place within the first five years. But time lines can always change.

Hermitage Club activity has brought in approximately 41,000 visitors in recent years, the report said.

"It is estimated that the completed Hermitage Club plan will generate a net increase of 294,000 or more visits at the Haystack site. Net new visits will support employment at the Hermitage — and by virtue of spending outside the club — support employment at other area businesses," Kennedy wrote. "Further, the direct spending by club visitors will support other regional employment on indirect bases."

Kennedy estimates expenditures associated with those visits will generate a total of 742 jobs of full-time equivalence once Hermitage Club plans are completed. And 74 percent of those jobs will be "generated on a direct basis" with "the majority of the direct full-time equivalent (positions)" being created in the Wilmington and Dover area.

The commission also worries about plans for a mountain coaster, which were "indicated to the town" and could involve "extensive deforestation" but were not mentioned in the analysis.

"We would like to see where these added natural resource impacts are projected to take place and what the impact will be on the natural and aesthetic values of the town," the commission wrote.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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