Hermitage Club plans threatened by permitting delays

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WILMINGTON — The state has postponed any hearings on Hermitage Club construction until a few items are ironed out.

"At significant risk are Haystack development plans that have been pending for almost an entire year including permitting for Grenoble Way and the Hotel Hermitage sited outside of wetlands, wildlife habitat, and stream crossings; we purchased water and sewer rights, and filed for construction permits last year," said Jim Barnes, founder and president of the Hermitage Club in a statement. "All 8 units at Grenoble Way are pre-sold and 80 people can start work tomorrow on this $12 million project and close it in before the onset of winter. The possibility of constructing this project and other units at Stag Leap is now slipping away. Thus we will have lost the better part of two construction seasons which does not bode well for the largest new job creator in southern Vermont."

Those residences plus the proposed hotel are part of the company's plans for expanding its offerings in the Deerfield Valley, where it operates a private ski resort on Haystack Mountain, a nearby golf course, inn and airport. But those plans could be off the table for this summer if the company's motion to alter the state's recess order on hearings for an Act 250 permit does not speed up the process.

On Tuesday, the Hermitage Club requested that the District #2 Environmental Commission issue positive findings of fact for Haystack Mountain and partial findings for land called the East Tract and the Deerfield Valley Airport so it could "move forward with pending development" at Haystack that had been "suspended for nearly a year."

The company called the development "critical to the project's survival."

"Our proposal is to continue work on resolving issues critical to the East Tract Road and the Deerfield Valley Airport and to file new information at a later date in order to amend the partial findings of fact largely in the area of wetland impacts and necessary wildlife habitat. These issues are very close to final resolution, but that work does not need to delay development plans at Haystack Mountain where essentially all issues have been resolved," the company said in its motion, explaining that no construction could occur without amendments to the company's Act 250 permit. "If the DEC declines to issue partial findings of fact based on existing records... the applicant will need to consider divesting itself of ownership of both the East Tract and Deerfield Valley Airport to third parties in arms-length transactions which will likely occur in the very near future."

If the Hermitage Club no longer owns or controls those properties, the company said Act 250 requirements for the land will fall on the new owner.

The Hermitage Club received a recess order on an Act 250 permit application for its master plan on May 19. A site visit on Dec. 21, 2015 was followed by hearings on March 4 and April 5.

The DEC referred to input from the state's Agency of Transportation regarding the airport and asked the agency to contract with an independent aviation professional to provide an unbiased review of safety, transportation and environmental issues.

"There are major concerns regarding whether the project has sufficiently and successfully avoided minimized impacts to wetlands," the order stated. "There are also concerns regarding whether the airport expansion complies with the relevant June 13 Windham Regional Transportation Plan policy, 'weigh the secondary growth effects that often result from transportation infrastructure improvements and determine if the benefits of the improvements outweigh the costs to existing historical, cultural and environmental assets.'"

For all the property within the plan, the commission wants to see a water-quality monitoring plan; a map showing riparian buffering encroachments; a conservation agreement for off-site mitigation to offset impacts to deer wintering areas; a contract with the Deerfield Valley Transit Association explaining terms of services for the association's MOOver busing; a final agreement with the Cold Brook Fire District regarding water and wastewater allocation; and an explanation as to whether the CBFD has a permit to discharge into the North Branch of the Deerfield River and whether there will be an increase in effluent.

The commission requested designs plans for Oak Brook and Fannie Hill Road that conform to current stream alteration standards and a final agreement with ANR on a certain bird habitat. Also needed for property near Haystack Mountain was a final plan for mitigation and monitoring of rare plants.

On the East Tract, on-site wind data at the airport was asked for along with a planting plan for a private residence's property.

"The commission has concerns about the natural resources impacted by East Tract Road. The applicant testified that the primary purpose of the road was the convenience of transporting guests from the airport to the Hermitage Club and that the secondary purpose would be emergency access," the order said, referring to a road being proposed. "The applicant has provided evidence that 'not having the East Tract Road as a second access would severely impact the safety of the airport, negate the benefits of less response time for medivac, and eliminate the second access needed for a FEMA disaster supply airport designation. The state's goals for this project could not be accomplished.'"

The commission said it wants clarification from the company on whether airport expansion will be pursued if the East Tract Road does not receive positive findings. The commission is looking to have one of ANR's biologists find out if an expanded runway at the airport and construction of East Tract Road would have any effect on amphibians. The commission also asked for final comments from the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets on the impact to primary agricultural soils.

Once those items are addressed with findings, conclusions and conditions from the commission, any rebuttals from the Hermitage Club were requested to be submitted on or before Aug. 12. The company responded to the items in its motion to alter.

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


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