The area is one of several in the so-called East Tract, previously owned by The Hermitage Club, and sold to Brian and Keith Jurgens, owners of Comtuck LLC. The East Tract lands lie between Cold Brook Road and Route 100.
Comtuck’s application asked the DRB to adjust the current subdivision of more than 100 small lots by combining several to create 25 larger building lots. Gordon Bristol, project manager for Comtuck, said their intention was to “restart the previously approved project.” Bristol explained that the original, smaller lots were intended for houses that would be serviced by municipal sewer and water, presumably provided by Coldbrook Fire District. But, Bristol said, according to their discussions with Coldbrook, they can’t guarantee sewer capacity for future East Tract projects at this time, so Comtuck plans to build their own water and sewer systems to serve homes in the development. “We’ll need to put wells and septic on individual lots or common land, and combine three or four lots to become buildable. But we’re not looking to alter any lot lines.”
DRB chair Wendy Manners asked if Comtuck was developing individual homes, or developing as “one big entity,” which she said would fall under a planned unit development. Bristol and Comtuck owners Brian and Keith Jurgens held out hope that they could proceed under the previous plan, but Manners said their application could either be for a subdivision of lots for individual construction, or a PUD, which would require review under the current zoning bylaw. “So, are you selling each property to individual owners, as opposed to a PUD which might have common lands, and shared services such as sewer or water?”
“We still want to have open common land you see in the original plan, and the road configurations in the plan,” said Bristol.
“Then we’ll proceed assuming this will be a PUD,” Manners said.
DRB member Fred Houston asked who would care for the common lands and roads in the PUD. “There will be an association typical of what you already have in the valley. The roads will remain private, and the PUD will own the entire area.”
Erik Anderson, who said he and his wife Karen have owned four lots in the subdivision for many years, noted that two of the lots claimed by Comtuck on their map of the subdivision were actually his. Surveyor Ben Joyce and Bristol said they would make a correction. “It’s not our intention to take anyone’s land,” Bristol said. “We were told what we bought, but there may be adjustments.”
Another property owner said her grandfather had originally purchased Saddle Ridge lot 43, and it had passed down to her. She was concerned about how Comtuck’s planned development would impact her prospects for future use of the land. Anderson echoed the concern.
“If I don’t have money to build now, before you do, is there a possibility I won’t be able to build on my lots?” he asked. “I’m also concerned about association fees if there’s a home owners’ association. Will I have to pay into that association?”
Brian Jurgens said he and his brother had been visiting the area for more than 28 years, and had developed friendships with local residents and an attachment to the area. He said he and his brother plan to combine the existing lots to create larger lots that would meet today’s land use standards, and build 25 “high end” housing units at Saddle Ridge. He also noted that Saddle Ridge had become “landlocked” when its only access road was washed out during Tropical Storm Irene. “So we’re also trying to secure (secondary) access in the event of future flooding,” he said. “Thus far, it has been an honor working with everyone on this project, and the support has been a humbling experience.”
The proposed secondary access point Jurgens referred to would be from Route 100 via Old Ark Road. Several people with property along Old Ark Road indicated they were circulating a petition with at least 10 names, and maybe several more, to qualify as interested parties in the proceedings. Attorney David Grayck, who was at the proceeding representing Old Ark property owner Dan Kilmurray, also acted as an adviser for the Old Ark Road group.
Joyce summarized the historical connections between the Haystack East Tract lands and properties along Old Ark Road that formerly belonged to Old Ark Incorporated. Although a number of large lots were sold to individuals, western portions of Old Ark land were eventually sold to Haystack Corporation, becoming their “East Tract.” A portion of Old Ark Road is public and maintained by the town. Beyond the town-owned portion, the road is on private land that individual property owners can access with deeded rights of way. Comtuck proposed to build a road connecting Saddle Ridge with the private road. Manners noted that the entire road would have to be brought up to town highway specifications.
Several of the Old Ark petitioners registered their objections to the plan, expressing concern about increased traffic along the road, the impact on their quality of life, and on wildlife, water quality, security, aesthetics, and highway safety. Maryann Kirby said she was concerned about the contamination of wells and other drinking water sources. “There are a lot of people on the hill that have shallow wells or springs,” she said. “There’s a lot of concern that if these people have the right to go up Old Ark Road, the road is small and narrow. Shirley Drive (off Old Ark Road) is a glorified driveway.”
Kirby also said neighborhood security was a concern. “We’re currently a close, tight-knit neighborhood,” she said. “We know who is coming and going, and who are the people doing renovations to houses up the street. With this change, there will be people we don’t know, and we won’t know what their intentions are.”
Mike Kirby said the road narrowed to one lane in the winter. “There are sharp ‘S’ curves, where we know to slow down; second-home owners won’t. I’ve seen people who don’t live there whizz up that street.” Kirby also noted that the residents of the road currently pay to maintain the private access, and asked what provisions would be made for future maintenance.
Richard Fitzgerald said he was one of the property owners whose primary source of drinking water was a spring.
Laurette Wanko also said her water source is a spring. “I’m concerned about traffic and construction vehicles on Old Ark Road, and I’m also concerned about wildlife habitat and runoff into our basements.”
Renato Grella, owner of the land over which the private portion of the existing road runs, said his deed does not include a general public right of way. “My deed only gives access to nine property owners,” he said.
Mike Kirby noted that his deed, too, specified that he shared the right-of-way access with eight others.
Grayck, Kilmurray’s attorney, asked the board to set clear deadlines for the submission of materials, and for the board and Comtuck to share, as quickly as possible, all materials entered into the record on the case, and promised to do the same. He indicated that he planned to bring in experts to conduct studies and evaluation of the applicant’s submittals for rebuttal testimony.
Manners went over a preliminary list of information the DRB would need to support the application. Manners also asked whether the original Act 250 plan was still considered valid. Bristol said Comtuck has requested a jurisdictional opinion, but Comtuck, at least, believes the permit is still in force. “At the current time we have an Act 250 permit, one of the first Act 250 permits ever issued in Vermont. I think the number 0002.”
“If we could get copies of the exhibits, that would be great,” Manners said.
Manners also asked about engineering plans, wastewater plans, and water supply plans. “And have you assessed the municipal impact, the impact on police, fire, education, transportation? Have you worked with the fire department on a plan for hydrants?” Bristol said the houses would be constructed with security and fire suppression systems.
But Wilmington Fire Chief Ken March said his department had “huge concerns.” “We’re concerned about the size of the project, the impact on services, life safety, and access to be able to provide services there,” he said. March’s comment about “access,” referred to ingress and egress routes, and their capacity for fire and rescue equipment. “I’d like to know which Act 250 agreements will be used.”
Comtuck officials requested a 60-day period to gather the additional documents and information the board requested, and all of the parties agreed to recess the hearing to a tentative date of Monday, July 10, at 5 pm. The DRB also set a site visit for Monday, May 15, at 5 pm.