Master plan finally approved
Feb 23, 2017 | 4007 views | 0 0 comments | 291 291 recommendations | email to a friend | print
News late last week that the Hermitage Club had received approval of its master plan by Vermont’s District 2 Environmental Commission was welcome to many around the region. No doubt club officials and members were happy, as owner Jim Barnes exulted as much in a email. With the master plan approval in hand, the Hermitage Club can continue its buildout of Haystack Mountain.

In the short term, that means a good shot in the arm to the local economy. That economic juice will come in the form of construction projects and the associated business that comes with them. In the long term, it means that Haystack Mountain, long the poor stepchild of area ski resorts, may finally take its place next to Mount Snow and Stratton as local jewels in the Vermont ski resort crown. The development of Haystack will pay long-term benefits to the local economy through increased tourist traffic, property taxes, and jobs.

Depending on how one looks at it, the approval was the culmination of a drawn-out process that went almost a year longer than it should have, or it was the environmental protection process doing what it was supposed to do.

In this particular instance, it appears the former is more the case than the latter.

In the saga of the Hermitage Club’s plans for Haystack Mountain, there were certainly some missteps early on in the club’s redevelopment of Haystack that led to skepticism by state officials. An ill-advised snowmobile trail and an attempt to turn a winter snowmaking pond into a summer beach resort were chief among them.

But it’s not like the Hermitage Club was attempting to develop a pristine wilderness area. Haystack Mountain has been around for half a century, and previous owners and developers had working master plans in place that had been the blueprint for the development already there. What the Hermitage Club wants to do, though, is certainly more ambitious than previous plans for Haystack. Private homes, condominiums, and hotels are all part of the mix.

But in looking at the final permit, there appear to be few, if any, restrictions on the development plan that are significantly different than the draft permit circulated almost a year ago. So why did it take so long? We don’t have the answers to that, only the Act 250 people do.

It should also be noted that it took a meeting between Barnes and Vermont’s new governor, Phil Scott, to break loose the logjam and push through the permit approval. In the big picture, that only adds to developers’ frustrations. It shouldn’t take a meeting with the governor to prompt final approval. The process should work on its own and shouldn’t need political pressure to goose along a permit.

While we can’t say for certain, we doubt the Hermitage Club plan approval would have been issued any time soon without that meeting with the governor.

We are all for reasonable permitting. There’s no doubt uncontrolled and unplanned growth can be disastrous for both developer and the nearby community. It was that type of willy-nilly growth that led to the Legislature approving Act 250 in the first place. That was back in the 1970s, and haphazard development projects here in the Deerfield Valley were part of the arguments for a statewide system of development review and permitting.

But what many find frustrating with the current system is not necessarily that it is onerous, although it certainly can be. Most frustrating are the inconsistencies in the process. Businesses, including developers, thrive when planning and permitting is structured and predictable. When uncertainty creeps in, either in terms of delays of permit approval or unreasonable conditions to a permit, is when businesses and developers get frustrated with the process.

Oftentimes, the Act 250 process seems anything but, and that’s what gets under people’s skin. This current example highlights once again the inconsistencies in the permit process. It shouldn’t take a meeting with or a phone call from the governor to expedite a permit. The process should be uniform and predictable. Unfortunately, that often appears to not be the case.

While no doubt many are happy the Hermitage Club plan was approved, no one should be happy with the process of getting it approved. Until the state can make the Act 250 process work in a predictable, consistent manner, no one should be happy with that.
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