Hermitage Club hearing to have co-applicants

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WILMINGTON — The Hermitage Club and District No. 2 Environmental Commission will meet again on Oct. 11.

This marks the third hearing for the company as it seeks an Act 250 permit for its master plan. The event is expected to bring Comtuck LLC and 4V8 LLC into the fold after properties were sold to the two groups in order to make permitting go more smoothly. The Deerfield Valley Airport and "East Tract" were purchased from the Hermitage Club at $500,000 each.

The commission has ordered the two groups to "be joined as co-applicants to this proceeding and that the principals make appearances at the next hearing" in a memorandum of decision issued on Aug. 29. The document says that "insufficient information has been proffered" by the Hermitage Club regarding affiliations with the new property owners.

"The application presently fails to meet the requirements of the rule (Act 250 Rule 10) to 'list the name or names of all persons who have a substantial property interest, such as through title, lease, purchase or lease option, right-of-way or easement, in the tract or tracts of involved land by reason of ownership or control and shall describe the extent of their interests,'" the decision said. "The rule further states that 'the District Commission may, upon its own motion ... find that the property interest of any such person is of such significance, therefore demonstrating a lack of effective control by the applicant, that the application cannot be accepted or the review cannot be completed without their participation as co-applicants.'"

A warranty deed for the airport and "corrective deeds" were reviewed by the commission, according to the decision. The Hermitage Club had previously submitted new proposed findings of fact without information on the two properties. Before that, the commission had asked for more evidence and information on matters involving the protection of streams, wildlife, and wetland. Most of the questions revolved around proposals for a new road on the East Tract and the expansion of the airport runway. Plans to start construction on a 93-unit hotel this summer near the company's private ski resort at Haystack Mountain were delayed.

An interest in developing the two properties unloaded by the Hermitage Club still exists.

John Masterson, of 4V8 LLC, hopes to continue with plans to expand the airport's runway and upgrade the facility for safety reasons. He resides in Stamford, Conn.

"There are some odds and ends," he said. "I've been up there. It's very windy. There are very few tie-ins."

He might even attempt to set up a flight school.

"I think the area's very lucky to have an airport. It's just not the safest airport right now," said Masterson, who met Hermitage Club founder and president Jim Barnes in Rhode Island about 10 years ago.

At the time, Masterson told Barnes about his interest in purchasing airports. It was a dream Masterson had since he had been working on Wall Street in New York City. He said he was looking for a career change.

The Deerfield Valley Airport is considered "an exciting opportunity" by Masterson.

"I just think it's a world-class destination spot, airport-wise," he said. "It should be a fun project."

Plans to develop the "East Tract," which is land between the airport and Haystack, were mentioned by the new owner, Brian Jurgens, of Jamesport, N.Y. His company, Comtuck, purchased the East Tract after his 30 years of visiting the valley and knowing Barnes through volunteering on the Deerfield Valley Stump Jumpers Snowmobile Club. They met in 1991.

Jurgens called the deal "pretty good land for a pretty good price."

"We were just looking to build a few family houses and maybe build a few lots on it and that's about it," Jurgens told the Reformer in a previous interview. "We're actually looking at a place to rent for this winter on another property, then we'll take it from there. I'm at the height of my golf season right now. I run some family golf courses in Long Island. I haven't had much time to even get into this project that much."

On whether his family had plans to sell the property or any piece of it back to the Hermitage Club, Jurgens said, "Not at this time."

Wilmington Select Board members have an agenda item at Wednesday's meeting to discuss the potential for drafting a letter to the commission. The topic of permitting came up at the board's last meeting when Hermitage Club attorney Bob Fisher received support from the board to work on sections of Haystack owned by the town.

Select Board Vice Chairman John Gannon had expressed concern about the company not acting as a good corporate citizen.

"I think so much of being the good corporate citizen depends on having our state permit processes work in an efficient manner," Fisher replied.

A Freedom of Information Act request showed some of the complications involved in the arduous task of reviewing a project so large.

Scheduling Act 250 hearings requires checking with the commission, Agency of Natural Resources and witnesses. The Windham Regional Commission also hopes to attend.

The documents submitted by the applicant need to be reviewed by commission members. Supporting studies and land surveys are conducted. Permits for wastewater, stormwater discharge and general construction need to be shown. The Hermitage Club had to provide a letter about impact to soils from the Agency of Agriculture.

In September 2013, Fisher addressed state officials over questions whether an Act 250 permit was needed for property near Fannie Hill Road referred to as the McGovern Lots.

"Our team has consistently answered these questions in a prompt manner and have consistently provided the material requested or answers to questions posed. This has been pending since March," Fisher wrote. "It is now September."

Engineer Bob Harrington also voiced similar concerns.

"I would appreciate being able to get an answer soon as this has dragged on a long time," he wrote regarding the same issue.

Many of the lots in the East Tract have wetlands subject to permitting that did not exist when the lots were created, according to state officials. Installation of sewer systems could be required before development could begin.

Part of permitting is about protecting other property owners. Residents near the airport wrote state officials about their concern that "jet fuel will affect our pond and air quality." Wildlife was another concern — especially a bear corridor in the East Tract.

Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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