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Killington Village receives Act 250 permits with conditions

After a lengthy and detailed process, the District #1 Environmental Commission issued Act 250 permits for the Killington Village Master Plan and a new Resort Parking Project on October 7.

While it is a step forward in the process, there are some conditions attached to the permit that cause concern for SP Land Company. Still, Steven Selbo, President of SP Land, said he was "cautiously optimistic." Adding "we have some important decisions to make," referring to whether or not SP Land Company would appeal the ruling or request modification.

Based upon the Commission's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, Land Use Permit #1R0980 was issued as follows:

"This permit specifically authorizes the Permittee to construct Phase I of the Village Master Plan," including: 193 residential units in the Village Core; 31,622 square feet of commercial/retail space; 77,000-square-foot replacement skier services building; 32 lot Ramshead Brook Subdivision utilities; two potable water projects - Snowdon Well Field Project and the Valley Well Field Project; and further approves the subdivision of 15 lots throughout the Killington Mountain area and reaffirms an additional 10 lots.

The permit also notes that amendments will be required for individual residential units in the Ramshead Brook Subdivision as the construction details of those homes become finalized. The final plan may involve all single-family homes (32 total) or a combination of single-family homes and duplexes, which could total up to 55 housing units.

The District #1 Commissioners participating in this decision were the acting chair Herbert G. Ogden, Amanda Beraldi, and Edward Weissman. The permit application was filed February 28, 2012 and the hearings were held in late May and early June 2012. After several recess orders and numerous extensions for filings of requested information, the Commission began deliberations on the applications for the Killington Village Master Plan and new Resort Parking Project in July 2013.

The conditions that were imposed in the eight-page permit were explained in the 62 pages of Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. Some of the 10 criteria have sub-criteria, however, if not implicated in the application, criterion that address such things as gravel pits and quarries do not get addressed.

Phase I Conditions
Most of the 29 conditions were pro forma (to be expected) - for instance, regarding landscaping, Condition 16 requires the permit holder to "continually maintain the landscaping as approved in the Exhibits by replacing any dead or diseased plantings within the season or as soon as possible after the ground thaws, whichever is sooner."

One substantial consideration, which the Commission thoroughly addressed in five pages of findings was Criteria 8 Aesthetics, typically one of the most complex and important issues for developers in Vermont.

Killington resident and businessman Steve Durkee objected to the project on this criteria through his representative David Raphael. Raphael, an architect, claimed that there would be an undue adverse impact of both the Village Master Plan and Phase I. He argued that the developments would be shocking or offensive to the average person and that reasonable mitigation steps to reduce the visual and aesthetic impacts had not been taken. He said that the Village Master Plan and associated developments are inappropriately sited, scaled and designed, that they insufficiently protect or preserve the natural landscape, and thus would have irreversible detrimental impacts on the aesthetics of the area.

In response, while the Commission found that there would be a potential for an adverse affect "insofar as certain pastoral treed areas" would see residential development, it found that Phase I is "in harmony with its surroundings of a developed ski resort basin." It continued, stating: "the majority of Phase I construction will be the Village Core, which is currently the location of day-skier parking lots and two aging skier-services buildings. The Snowshed and Ramshead lodges will be demolished as part of this project and replaced with newer, more attractive structures. The current arrival at the base of the ski mountain is through a large parking area and largely unadorned with positive aesthetic features," the Commission noted.

Citing this factor among other findings, the Commission concluded that "Based upon a preponderance of the evidence, Phase I will not have an undue adverse effect on the scenic or natural beauty of the area, aesthetics, historic sites or rare and irreplaceable natural areas."

However, the Commission also addressed potential impacts of the Ramshead Brook Subdivision by requiring that plans for the homes be submitted for review and approval by Act 250 prior to construction.

One issue that was brought up after the hearings (although SP Land had addressed housing in their economic analysis) was the request by the Rutland Regional Planning Commission (RRPC) for affordable housing to be built. The Commission noted that the reference to the need for affordable housing was "well-intentioned but untimely." However, it noted that an updated economic analysis would have to address the issue for any subsequent phases, noting RRPC may participate on that issue at that time.

Traffic impacts, Conditions
The most contentious issue raised during the Act 250 hearings concerned Criterion 5 Transportation and 9K Public Investment as regards potential traffic impacts.

In its proposal to the Commission, SP Land suggested that "six-months-to-one-year and five-years after full occupancy of Phase I and during the ski season that the Applicant" would conduct a study to determine actual trip generation and compare it to the Traffic Impact Study (TIS) they submitted at the hearings.

If the actual trip generation were found "to exceed the estimates by 20 percent or more," their proposal stated that the Applicant would re-analyze the various intersections (reported on in the study area) and report on signal warrants, turn lane warrants, average delays, and other parameters. They also recognized the Commission's continuing jurisdiction and right to convene a status conference to determine whether further studies and/or mitigating measures might be warranted.

SP Land had objected to open-ended mitigation for traffic impacts all the way to I-89 and I-91 and to funding suggestions that might be similarly open-ended or rely heavily on SP Land while many other factors and parties could contribute and, thus, be responsible for, future traffic impacts.

The Commission took into consideration input and concerns from the statutory parties and the Permit granted does contain extensive open-ended conditions regarding future traffic studies - far beyond SP Land's suggestion.

A proviso requires the Permittee to "contribute 50% of the cost of preparing the study and the plan with a cap of $25,000, whichever is less. The balance of cost for this plan will be paid for through contributions from VTrans and the effected Regional Planning Commissions. The Regional Planning Commissions will jointly manage the study and collaborate with the permittee in the development of the study and the issuance of the report and plan."

Furthermore, while granting the permit for Phase I, it preconditions any future applications for additional phases of the Village upon meeting several requirements. Including: in addition to stipulating what the 6-12 month traffic study and the second five-year study must contain, it requires the Permittee to develop appropriate mitigation measures to mitigate any adverse condition(s) and to implement, or cause to be implemented, the recommended mitigation measures that VTrans identifies to resolve congestion or safety problems. In other words, not only will they be held to the cost of the study, but the widespread cost of mitigating future traffic issues well outside their immediate impact area, too.

The Commission writes: "The permittee shall, prior to submittal of application(s) for approval of subsequent phases, coordinate with VTrans and with the effected Regional Planning Commissions (the Rutland Regional, Southern Windsor County and Two Rivers- Ottauquechee Regional Planning Commissions) to design, fund and perform a corridor traffic study which includes traffic impacts from the Phase I development upon the Killington Road/US4/ VT103 corridors from Killington to I-91 and I-89."

In addition to stipulating what the corridor study shall include regarding traffic impacts "for all phases of the SP Lands development," Condition 14 in the Permit notes "it shall include conclusions in the form of a transportation system improvement plan for areas in the corridor shown to require improvement to maintain safe conditions and avoid unreasonable congestion."
The Commission concluded that a more meaningful study would occur after completion of Phase I and prior to approval for subsequent phases and hence the aforementioned conditions regarding traffic studies.

Partial Findings for Village Master Plan
In addition to the construction approval for Phase I, the permit decision contains associated partial findings pursuant to Act 250 Rule 21 in connection with proposed development of subsequent phases of the Killington Village Master Plan for the long-range development of an additional 2,107 housing units and 169,000 square feet of additional retail development. The total build-out would encompass eight development zones in about 303 acres.

The Commission did conclude that the Village Master Plan will have no adverse impact on historic sites that are listed or eligible for the State or National Registers of Historic Places or on any significant rare or irreplaceable natural communities and there were a few other such instances of positive findings.

However, there were many more criteria where it was noted that "additional evidence" would be required. The Commission was unable to find full conformance with Criterion 8 Aesthetics for subsequent future phases II and III without additional evidence. Noting "The applicant has presented a case that the Village Master Planned locations, densities and scale are appropriate," the commission said that with the details unknown at this time, "the Applicant must provide detailed plans and exhibits at the time of application for each future phase of the Village Master Plan to demonstrate that each such phase will not have an undue adverse effect on the scenic or natural beauty of the area or aesthetics."

E2M - SP Land
Although there is a permit, there is no timetable concerning the development of the village at this point. Paul Rowsey, founding partner of Texas-based E2M and chairman of Ski Partners which is the majority owner of SP Land Company discussed plans and a revised timeline for the Village project in a 2009 interview, stating that he expected it would take years to complete the planning and secure necessary permits.

He also noted that the decision to proceed with the Village was predicated on E2M having expertise in real estate. E2M is a private real estate firm with a long-range focus, he noted. The principals in E2M have 24 years real estate development experience on average and four of the principals run/ran national real estate development companies. E2M has been involved with master-planned communities in Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Colorado as well as the development and financing of 42 hotel properties across the country among other real estate projects that include multi-family housing, senior housing, and commercial and industrial properties.

E2M's involvement has ranged from having operating partners and E2M serving more as equity financing and project oversight partners to being actively involved with development, Rowsey explained. He added that having been involved with investing in over 100 development projects across the country, E2M has a "network with operating partners who have experience with hotels, condo development and management and in-house expertise."

Stating, "We don't invest in public companies, and we are not a public company," Rowsey said this enables E2M to be involved with a long-range master plan and be involved for the long term. Additionally, there is a partnership with Powdr, also a private company, which owns the ski resort. Each company owns a small portion of the other so there is a symbiotic relationship to work together toward common goals, Rowsey noted.

Now that another step forward has been achieved in the long planning process, it is relevant to note that SP Land is in for the long haul and not preparing to "flip the village" as some rumors would have it. 

Selbo reiterated that given the size of the project, that would be highly unlikely anyway and that the company will be looking to bring in qualified developers, whether to be joint-venture partners or to purchase land. So seeking partners is likely a next step for SP Land and Selbo, even as they continue through potential appeals or modifications with the Act 250 permit.

An appeal to Act 250, whether sought by SP Lands or an opponent, would once again delay the long sought Village.  [The original Killington Village suffered a three-year delay from 1987 to 1990 in the Vermont Supreme Court, which ultimately chastised the objectors and threw their case out. But by then the state was in a deep recession and Killington's corporate parent S-K-I Ltd. was unable to accomplish a village core, ultimately selling the company and resort.]

The significance of the permit is that it recognizes Killington's need for a dynamic village and once again identifies it as a "growth center" - originally agreed to an historic land swap in 1997. Many see the Village as a means to boost and revitalize Killington Resort's position in the New England four-season destination resort industry, and one that could provide a much-needed economic boost the entire Rutland Region. These permits are a step in that direction.

Editor's Note: Next week we'll cover the second permit, which was issued for Killington Resort's replacement day skier parking lots, realignment of a portion of Killington Road, reconfiguration of The Killington Grand hotel parking lot, and construction of a storm-water basin and associated utilities. We'll also check in to get local reactions and report any updates on modifications or appeals submitted to Act 250.

Photo submitted
Architectural rendition of Phase 1 of the proposed Killington Village, which will be located near the current Snowshed and Ramshead base lodges.