Sunapee officials say they don't plan to build housing
NEWBURY — Though more than half of the audience speakers at Tuesday night’s public hearing on the new five-year plan for Mount Sunapee spoke in favor of the plan’s proposals, those in opposition are asking the state to stop the plan outright or at least question it carefully.
Those questioning the plan, including the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, are mainly asking the state, which owns the mountain, to press the resort’s leasers to explain its potential plans for building housing and/or condominium units.
In an earlier version of the plan in 2004, resort officials indicated the potential construction of up to 250 housing units in the West Bowl expansion. After that plan was vetoed by state officials, the 2009 proposal for the expansion did not detail any housing units, nor does the 2014 five-year plan.
That’s because Sunapee Mountain officials have no plans to build, said Vice President and General Manager Jay Gamble.
“It’s not something we foresee doing in the next five years,” Gamble said Wednesday.
But the Forest Society’s Will Abbott said that assurance is not enough.
“So what is in their plans for year six?” Abbott said.
Abbott and others said they hope the Department of Resources and Economic Development, which oversees the resort’s planning for the state, will question the plan in greater detail.
“I’m presuming and I hope DRED will ask important questions about how these plans are going to work in this economic climate,” Abbott said.
Amy Bassett, a DRED spokesperson, said the agency is taking comments on the plan until Sept. 26, and will then review the comments and form a response to the plan.
The ski area, which has 66 trails and slopes covering 233 skiable acres, is owned by the state but has been leased since 1998 by Tim and Diane Mueller, who also own Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Vt.
The West Bowl project would feature a high-speed quad chairlift and 75 acres of new ski terrain on the west slope of Mount Sunapee. Mount Sunapee officials are proposing to add four new ski trails, one new high-speed lift, a new base lodge and additional parking. There are other changes proposed in the plan, including an upgrade of the resort’s main ski lift.
In the public input portion of Tuesday’s meeting, there were 27 speakers; of those, 19 spoke in favor of the plans. Seven spoke in opposition; one person was undecided.
Virginia Shendler of Goshen — where much of the development is planned — said Sunapee Mountain officials “have done a good job overall, but they’ve done enough.”
“We are concerned that they want to make the area residential, and make money on the housing,” she said. “They aren’t telling us everything ... and I think they’ve done enough developing.”
Gamble said the master plan still leaves open the possibility for development.
“But even if we wanted to build housing on the property, we would still have to go through the town of Goshen and meet the public’s approval through that process,” he said.
Gamble said the reason most people spoke in favor of the plan — and the reason the audience applauded loudly when those people spoke — is Mount Sunapee’s recent history. The new plans would enhance the resort, he said, bringing more economic benefits to the area.
“We have a 16-year track record, and during that time, we have earned the respect of the citizens of these towns,” he said. “That was reflected in what was said by the public tonight.”
A few of those speaking in favor of the plans identified themselves as employees of the resort.