The resort designation was proposed by Ben Joyce, a licensed land surveyor in Wilmington, who says the purpose of creating a resort district is to benefit the town, and would coincide with the boundaries laid out for the Haystack area in a Planning Unit Development created in the 1970s. Joyce also said the redistricting would take the workload off the development review board by streamlining local permit processes.
Bob Rubin explained to the commission that the goal of redistricting is not to create more density in the number of units permitted, but to give Haystack the freedom to make proper changes to the resort. “We do not want more density,” said Rubin. “We have a permit for 400 units, and while it’s not our intention to circumvent the Development Review Board (DRB), we’re concerned about the Hermitage Club land being divided into three zones.”
Those three zones are the lower mountain area, which is residential; the center portion, which is commercial (where the ski area is located) and the top, which is conservation land owned by the town. “We believe the use of the land in the conservation designated area is in line with our objectives,” said Rubin. “We have a problem with the lower level being residential because we have ski terrain, lifts, snowmaking machines, and residential units of various kinds planned, and we may want to change our plans to match the product based on what the consumer wants to buy.
“That’s our concern, when you talk about the resort area. Hermitage is a resort area so if it’s a duck, call it a duck, let it go from Coldbrook Road to the top of the mountain.”
Joyce explained that the town-owned land zoned for conservation would not be changed if added to a resort district, but instead facilitate the existing operation of the resort, conservation, and open space.
The planning commission had plenty of questions about the effect a resort district would have on the downtown, and whether a resort district, which would not require DRB approval for all proposals and construction, would include caps on the number of restaurants, hotels, and retail outlets allowed in the area.
“People have good trust in what you want for the town,” said board member Wendy Manners. “But what if Jim Barnes goes away? Do we have the protections in place should someone come in without the altruistic ‘we all win together’ approach, and all the downtown businesses begin to move to that area because they see that’s where the economic development is? Because then we haven’t done our job of preserving the downtown. Right now we’re grappling with how to achieve that balance.”
Barnes explained that he is against capping the number of businesses allowed in the resort district, but believes that visitors will naturally want to branch out to the downtown areas of Dover and Wilmington.
“I’m against restricting free enterprise, but we don’t want Manchester, VT, recreated on top of Haystack Mountain,” said Barnes. “A large commercial district is not what we’re trying to develop. If we have a hotel and people want to do some shopping, we should be able to provide that type of amenity, especially being with the local skiing industry. It makes for a thoughtful development.”
A letter from Nicki Steele, chairwoman of the DRB, said the planning commission should be cautious about anything that would not go through DRB review, because it is too generous for one business owner, and takes the town out of much of the oversight.
“ Retail and restaurants are permitted uses. Does this mean that anybody in the new district could build a restaurant as a permitted use? Do we want retail or restaurants on Mann Road without review? Or could a person build a hotel on the area across from the main entrance to Coldbrook Road? We must remember that this area has gone through various owners all starting with good intentions but left the town holding the bag.”
Joyce explained that the residential areas were part of the 1970 PUD and all residential villages came with one of two types of restrictive covenance: single-family for small lots, and town home villages.
Bob Arrington, who is also working with Barnes and Rubin, says the original Haystack plan has not changed much since the 1970s. “The original plan includes the ski area, golf course, and the airport, and the original plan was 2,000 units or so,” said Arrington. “The commercial ski area is quite limited and has always been planned for the ski area portion of the property, and not on the lower mountain.
“Really what we’re talking about today are a few variations based upon what the market dictates, and now it happens to be more single family houses and a hotel unit, and maybe higher quality at the mountain, but the density at the mountain is still within its 450 units density of one type or the other, and that would still be the maximum.”
Arrington also commented on the airport plan, saying that in 1990 the airport was given an Act 250 permit to extend the landing strip 4,400 feet, which is needed for landing lighter jets. “You have a possibility right now to get this off the ground. You have an owner that’s thoughtful, into the planning, has history in the valley, and looks to me like someone who will be around for a long time. If you set up a resort district it will be different than commercial, and will limit strip development.
“Since 1970, millions of dollars in infrastructure have been put in place and, following the same plan, it’s never really been fully developed for one reason or another. And now it looks to me like this thing has a chance to go through and be developed.”
Adam Grinold, Executive Director of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that while he could not speak for all members of the chamber, he commended the entire Haystack team for what they’ve done to date, and believes Haystack contributes to and helps support Wilmington Village and in turn the whole valley. “We in the chamber talk about the village as an attribute of the valley. The village is an attribute that makes us unique and is key for the whole valley to succeed.”