Wilmington, Hermitage Club sign memo of understanding

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WILMINGTON — Before making official a memorandum of understanding between the town and the Hermitage Club, the Select Board wanted to nail down how frequently the company and the town's Planning Commission would get together to talk compliance.

That will be done on a quarterly basis, according to Planning Commission Chairwoman Wendy Manners who spoke to the Reformer on Sunday after the agreement had been signed.

The MOU is the latest agreement between Wilmington and the Hermitage Club and addresses land, local employment, trail markers and hotel access.

"The Hermitage is very willing to work with us to get these letters drafted. You know, since we drafted the agreement with respect to fire and police, there have been no meetings even though that agreement did indicate we needed volunteers ASAP (as soon as possible)," said Select Board Vice Chairman John Gannon during a meeting Wednesday, referring to a previous agreement featuring incentives like establishing a scholarship fund for children of Hermitage Club employees who decide to be firefighters and not docking pay for employees responding to a fire call. "So I do have some concerns about what follow-up is."

Fire Chief Ken March also expressed concern, saying emergency service meetings about not only current operations but new construction had been "pushed off" or rescheduled and the company "will tell us anything we want to hear."

The issue comes up at a time when the Hermitage Club is looking for state approval on its master plan. Needed is an Act 250 permit to continue with expansion, which includes a new 93-unit hotel near the company's private ski resort at Haystack Mountain. Wilmington is a party to the Act 250 hearing with the ability to weigh in on criteria such as transportation, municipal-plan conformity and impact on the town and region.

The latter piece involves the "obvious gentrification of the town," said Manners at the meeting where she and Hermitage Club attorney Bob Fisher brought the agreement in front of the Select Board.

"Because the Hermitage brings in extremely high-end people and we have a well-below moderate income population, there's certainly going to be some impact there," Manners said, mentioning that Wilmington's Town Plan "welcomes economic development."

Land in an area in Wilmington's resort district known as the "East Tract" was given to the town in an agreement during the 1970s and it was to be used for affordable housing, she told the board. But now, according to the Agency of Natural Resources, the property is in a deer-wintering area and its access road it is in bear habitat.

The memorandum of understanding sees the town maintaining ownership of the property but turning over its development rights. The Hermitage Club will pay the tax-appraised value of the land and the Select Board will then figure out how the funds can be used for affordable housing that's not necessarily through the federal government's Section 8 programming, said Manners, who called this part of the MOU "a solution that works for everyone." The land can be used for outdoor activities such as hiking, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

"We decided what might be beneficial to everyone is to have the Hermitage pay for that land and have that land turned over to conservation," Manners told the Reformer. "That money is then used in whatever way the Select Board determines is appropriate for housing people of lesser income."

Another part of the proposed agreement addresses a declining population and an education system that "needs a boost," Manners said. The plan is to offer a local school-to-work program so students can take on roles at the Hermitage Club.

"Our population is a key pool for potential employees," said Manners. "So we want to make sure they're on the right track to become not just the lower-level workers but managerial staff as well."

Other components of the agreement have to do with marking trails and ensuring access to downtown hotels.

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


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