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The Coos County Planning Board will vote on the fate of the Balsams Resort on Dec. 2. (John Koziol)

Planning Board green-lights Balsams development


COLEBROOK – By a unanimous voice vote, the Coos County Planning Board on Wednesday approved the planned-unit development application of Dixville Capital LLC.

The approval provides a framework for the phased redevelopment and new construction at The Balsams Resort in Dixville, which has been closed since 2011.

The resort includes the grand hotel, the Panorama golf course and The Wilderness ski area, all of which would be improved and/or expanded under a vision presented to the planning board back in July by Les Otten.

A former ski industry executive, Otten has proposed making The Balsams a year-round, world-class resort that would be based around what he has called "the largest and most technically advanced ski resort on the East Coast."

The ski area is part of the $145 million Phase 1 of the project which also calls for renovating the Dix, Hampshire, and Hale houses and the Panorama golf course and clubhouse; construction of a 500-room hotel, conference center, Nordic hot baths and spa, a performing arts center, and an open-air marketplace.

As the market demands, future phases, which Otten has said could take decades to complete, would see the construction of up to 4,600 residential units.

Because of the size and complexity of the Balsams project, both planning board members and Otten’s development team initially struggled on how best to present it for formal consideration. Several months into those discussions, the parties decided to use the county’s existing zoning regulations, and in particular the planned-unit development model.

Although the board members all supported the rebirth of The Balsams – which also has the support of Gov. Maggie Hassan and elected and appointed officials throughout the North Country – they differed on how quickly to proceed with the review process.

The matter was nearly brought to a showdown vote on Nov. 11 when it appeared that half the members wanted immediate action on the PUD application. Eventually, however, after consulting with the applicant, the planning board held two work sessions prior to Wednesday’s meeting during which it hammered out the conditions of the PUD approval.

On Wednesday, both planning board members and the applicant received copies of the conditions for the first time, although Board Chair John Scarinza said there was nothing new that hadn’t been previously covered at a work session.

Scarinza added that the board’s attorney found the conditions to be legally defensible and legally permissible, telling members to pause to read them in their entirety before proceeding with a vote on the PUD application.

After approximately a 30-minute recess, Scarinza gaveled the board back into order and after some minor "wordsmithing" of the conditions, accepted a motion to approve the PUD.

The chair then congratulated the Dixville Capital team, adding that he hoped to see them back sometime soon in 2016 with a site plan application for Phase I.

On a separate but related matter, the planning board also unanimously approved a request by Dixville Capital to be able to obtain a certificate of occupancy from the state fire marshal’s office for the Hale House. The facility would be occupied by the development team, not the public.