Weighing in about Maple Valley plans

Thursday April 25, 2013

DUMMERSTON -- Facing residents' concerns and town officials' questions, the owner of the shuttered Maple Valley Ski Area says he will modify his proposal in an attempt to reopen at least part of the resort.

Nicholas Mercede of Stamford, Conn.-based MVS Associates agreed on Tuesday to first seek approval to hold special events at the resort -- a request that Dummerston Development Review Board members thought they could more easily process.

But Mercede also said he will continue to pursue a permit for skiing on the mountain, saying that is critically important to his ongoing efforts to sell the 384-acre property on Route 30.

"If someone wanted to buy it, they want to know whether it can be used to ski on," Mercede said. "That's the big important thing. That's the value of the property."

There has been no skiing at Maple Valley for more than a decade. MVS's application, filed in March, seeks the town's permission to operate a "four-season recreation area" there.

In addition to skiing, the company proposes a long list of possible activities including mountain biking, hiking, paint ball, foliage viewing, archery camps, antique car shows, dances and movies.

"The application is to revitalize what we had there before. It's as simple as that," Mercede told review board members on Tuesday.

The company filed a similar application in 2011. At the time, the Development Review Board declined to address it without more specifics.

Board member Lew Sorenson had a similar reaction at the outset of MVS' hearing Tuesday night.

"When we considered a similar application two years ago, I think we explained then that, for you to get the permit that you were asking for then and are basically asking for now, it's going to require all the same kind of detail that a new applicant would need to present," Sorenson said. "That includes detailed engineering and explanation of what uses go where, and when and how they would be operated."

Sorenson added that "there isn't the information here that we would need to grant those permits."

The 2011 Maple Valley deliberations also featured neighbors who had concerns about light and noise. That was again the case at Tuesday's hearing.

Mary Louise Nelsen of Hague Road recalled that, when Maple Valley was operating, the resort's lights were so bright that "we could read outside" at night. She also recalled "throbbing engine noise" from snow-making activities.

"The noise definitely was a substantial impact through the closed windows in the winter inside the house," Nelsen said.

Judy Placey said she has extensive experience with Maple Valley, having been a neighbor for four decades. But she said the ski business has changed, as has the character of her neighborhood.

"This isn't a business community anymore. These are not ski homes anymore. This is a residential community," Placey said. "People live in these houses. And these lights affect us, and this noise affects us."

Both she and Nelsen also said they had concerns about a lack of specifics in the MVS application and about Mercede's intention to sell the resort.

"I am opposed to kind of a theoretical permitting process where somebody else might come in and have different concepts and put more snow guns on or more lights on," Placey said.

Others, however, showed up to support MVS' plans. Beverly Kenney, who owns Brattleboro North KOA campground in East Dummerston, said she wants to see Maple Valley revived "in a meaningful way" that could also provide an economic boost to the area.

"I support a project such as this for an obvious reason -- it will fill my campground and my cottages," Kenney said.

She added that "this area needs an attraction. Dummerston could use the employment opportunities, especially for the youth."

While Kenney acknowledged that she was not a neighbor of the resort, Art Benedict is. And the Route 30 resident said he had enjoyed living next to a busy ski resort.

"The lights were never a problem for me. In fact, it was a selling point for the house to have a ski area right across the road," Benedict said. "It's very nice to sit in your dining room at night and watch the skiers coming down the mountain. And I look forward to the day when this all happens again."

Mercede attempted to address some concerns by offering additional information at Tuesday's hearing. For instance, he said the resort's lighting would be modernized.

"We would be restricted to the amount of lights that are there now. We won't put any more lights in," he said. "And certainly, they're going to be improved .... Nowadays, the lighting's easy to do."

But Mercede also acknowledged that Maple Valley's snow-making equipment is obsolete, and he could not answer specific questions about the equipment that might replace it.

Review board Chairman Jack Lilly said the town requires that type of information.

"In order for us to really evaluate this, we'd need to know what the sound levels are for the new snow-making equipment," Lilly said.

Mercede also said he does not yet have a state permit to draw water from the West River for snow-making. And officials said the Maple Valley plan, along with Development Review Board approval, also will require a state Act 250 land-use permit.

As more questions arose later in the hearing, Mercede and his executive assistant, Shirley Schulz, agreed to split the MVS permit application into two parts.

While continuing to develop plans for ski operations, they said the company will seek more immediate approval to rent out the resort's lodge for special events.

Schulz said the lodge remains in good shape.

"Even though it's not being utilized, it's still being maintained and kept up," she said.

Sorenson said the company's modified permitting approach would allow the review board to process the "less theoretical" aspects of the MVS plan first.

"I think we could deal with (rentals and events) rather than trying to issue a permit for a ski resort the way it was, when some of us may not even have a good memory of what it was," he said.

At the close of Tuesday's hearing, Lilly said he believed town officials and Mercede eventually could work through their differences. The review board has up to 45 days to issue a ruling on MVS' application.

"Maple Valley was a tremendous facility," Lilly said. "Yet, you've heard all of the comments we've had, and there are concerns and there are real issues that we need to talk about. But I think we'll get there."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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