Hermitage questions Development Review Board's decision

Hermitage Club President Harper Sibley asks the Wilmington Development Review Board to grant a second extension of a permit for a condo hotel near the company's private ski resort at Haystack Mountain.

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WILMINGTON — The company operating the Hermitage Club wants to know if the Development Review Board's decision to grant a permit extension for a condo hotel near its private ski resort at Haystack Mountain was "arbitrary and capricious."

That's the first question Hermitage Inn Real Estate Holding Company LLC is asking the Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Court to consider in an appeal against Wilmington's zoning board. A statement of questions has been submitted by Brattleboro attorney Bob Fisher on behalf of the company.

The Hermitage wants to know whether the decision was meant "to slow or even halt development" of the previously approved project.

The company is asking if the need to seek a second extension could have been avoided altogether if the board had granted a two-year extension, rather than a one-year extension, in the first place. Local zoning regulations allow for up to a two-year extension.

The Hermitage is calling for the court to determine whether making it re-apply for a permit "constitutes an unwarranted taking of a property right" and whether the town gave it proper notice that the initial permit extension was expiring.

The Hermitage questions whether the Wilmington Fire Department's wanting an opportunity to reconsider a fire protection agreement should have "any bearing" on the DRB's decision on the second extension given that a previous decision had covered that.

The final question asks whether the town put "an undue burden" on the project given its "size and scope" by requiring that it be substantially completed in "a very narrow timeframe."

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The Hermitage appealed the DRB's decision last month.

"Since the granting of a one-year extension on Sept. 2, 2017, the applicant has not started planning for or substantially completed any development on the proposed hotel," states the Oct. 18 decision, which denied the second extension of the permit. "Significant time has elapsed since the original decision, with significant changes at [HIREHC] as well as in the zoning ordinance. It is consistent with Wilmington zoning regulations and practices that development not substantially completed in a timely fashion be subject to review."

The DRB said Harper Sibley, the Hermitage's new company president at the time and newly registered agent for the project, was not familiar with the initial decision made in September 2015 to allow the construction of a 184,000-square-foot, 79-foot-tall, 83-unit hotel with seven duplexes. After that permit expired, the board granted a one-year extension in March that covered September 2017 to September 2018.

On Thursday, Sibley said there should be news early next week about closing on a loan. Hermitage officials have been hopeful that a $25 million to $30 million loan will allow them to reopen the ski resort this winter after Berkshire Bank foreclosed on the company's ski resort, golf course and four inns in February and the Vermont Department of Taxes shut down establishments in March for missing tax payments.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.