Local farm invests in eco-tourism

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MANCHESTER — A proposed development at the Boorn Brook Farm on Benson Road in Manchester would expand operations to include lodging for up to 92 guests as well as a fine-dining restaurant with seating for 30.

The Green Mountain Reserve, An Eco-Retreat at Boorn Brook Farm, has been proposed by Jeff Nyweide of Manchester, the owner of the 53-acre farm.

An application for a site plan application and conditional use permit review was submitted May 13 by Kirk Moore of BMA Architects & Planners, on behalf of Nyweide.

The Development Review Board conducted the conditional use review at its June 3 meeting.

The project falls in the Rural Agricultural and Forest Conservation zoning districts, as well as in the Aquifer Protection Overlay.

The "four-season eco-retreat" concept would offer "an eco-friendly, experiential, and educational retreat utilizing the existing assets on the property and surrounding area," according to the original application.

The target clientele would be "younger people with high disposable income," according to Moore, who said there wasn't really anything like it in Vermont and referred to the development as "glamping."

The plan calls for a resort-style retreat featuring three guest rooms in the existing farmhouse, a fine dining restaurant with 30 seats, and 43 small shelter units scattered about the property in the woods.

Each room and shelter would be double occupancy for a maximum of 92 guests. The restaurant will be open to the public, but by reservation only.

The original plans submitted in May were revised in late June, reducing the guest rooms from six to three, increasing the restaurant seating from 16 to 30 guests, and adding three shelters.

Moore offered that he sees the project as "a unique and exciting opportunity for Manchester with crossover to other businesses, including restaurants, other lodging, and retail."

The main crossover benefit would come from special events, which have been described as weddings; yoga retreats; corporate events; small trade shows; and community fundraisers, education, clubs, and cultural events.

Some of these events would potentially draw more visitors than could stay on the property.

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Much of what currently exists on the property would remain such as the apiary, sugar house and trail system.

Additions, in addition to the 43 small shelters, would include a new 6,000-square-foot single story lodge, a new access driveway, and a few small outbuildings.

The Administrative Advisory Group, which includes town department heads, public works director, the police chief and fire chief, visited the site May 29.

Some concerns included widening paths through the property to 10 feet to accommodate an ambulance, using shuttles from town to the site for larger events to cut down on traffic, and widening and paving Benson Road to reduce dust and improve safety.

The developer has agreed to pay a fee of not more than $90,000 to widen and pave Benson Road.

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But not everybody is happy with the proposed development.

Neighbors of the farm are not thrilled with the plans, including three members of the Benson family, for whom the road is named.

Three Bensons still own property along the road and two live there.

Brian Benson and his wife Susan live on the road, as does Brian's brother John Benson.

Sister Mary Benson Herba owns a building lot on the road.

Brian Benson says the project is a great idea — somewhere else — not at the end of a tiny, dirt road on a pristine piece of property.

"We've been here over 30 years," Brian Benson said, referring to himself and his wife. "My family has been on this road for probably over 100 years."

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He said his grandfather once owned the farm in question and his father, an uncle and an aunt were all born in the farmhouse.

Much of his life history is tied up in the farm, the Benson swimming hole and on that dirt road.

"They're changing the character of the area," Benson said. "I get the town needs the revenue, but there are certain places where it should be and where it shouldn't be."

Other concerns include traffic, impacts to Manchester's water supply and the natural area itself.

He said he hopes people in nearby areas understand how much traffic could be coming through their areas.

"There's going to be an unbelievable amount of traffic," Benson said. "Not just on our road but on East Manchester Road and Richville Road."

And, he said, for an "eco-resort" they're sure creating a lot of impacts on the wildlife habitat, and natural settings of the area.

"They're calling it an eco-resort," Benson said. "The only thing green about this resort is the money they're going to make. It's just a way to make money."

The original application said local and state permits were expected to be in hand by the end of August and some improvements would begin this fall with project completion by early summer 2021.

The June meeting was continued to July, which was again continued to August.

The next DRB meeting Aug. 5 will again tackle the proposed improvement.

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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