GOSHEN — Tensions ran high at a meeting of the Goshen Planning Commission on Monday night, where efforts to compile information for an update to the town plan became a continuation of an earlier debate about the future of one of the more prominent pieces of property in the tiny mountain town.
The commission had warned the meeting for the purpose of discussing what place the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area would take in the town plan. Discussion quickly centered around possible sale of the Blueberry Hill Ski Center, which owner Tony Clark hopes to sell to the Moosalamoo Association.
Clark attended the meeting to clarify his plans for the 13 acres of his land that contain the ski center and a portion of the area’s ski trails. He would keep ownership of the Blueberry Hill Inn.
The planning commission and others who were in attendance at the meeting questioned Clark’s plans and the feasibility of a land transfer, in addition to the sale’s potential effects on Goshen.
Clark’s plans to sell the ski center follow the sale of another parcel — 54 acres of forest land to the National Forest Service. The $190,000 sale was completed in March, and transferred a significant amount of land off of Goshen’s tax rolls.
Because the sale reduced the town’s grand list, the result will be higher property taxes, but the worry expressed at Monday’s meeting was of a less quantifiable change. Meeting attendees expressed worries about increased numbers of visitors to the recreation area, and about the changes that might bring to the town.
Clark, who is also the president of the Moosalamoo Association, disclosed that the $1 million federal grant that the organization had applied for under Economic Development Authority stimulus funding would not be coming through, and that the board would be meeting later in the week to seek alternate funding for the purchase of his land. The grant would have paid for the land and the development of a visitor’s center, and initial plans had also included creation of a sugaring operation.
In an interview later, Clark said that if the sale goes through, it would be only a nominal change for the time being — for the foreseeable future he would continue to operate the inn and Nordic ski center as he has done in the past.
But the purchase would be a significant change for the Moosalamoo Association in the coming years. Currently, the organization owns no land; the Ghostwriters consulting and public relations firm in Rutland writes grants and carries out other administrative tasks for the association. The organization hopes to eventually build a year-round visitors center to serve as a programming and information hub for the 20,000-acre Moosalamoo National Recreation Area.
Though Clark said the Moosalamoo Association has been maintaining the trails and working to preserve and promote the area informally since 1988, it only received its official designation as an organization in 1994, and the National Recreation Area only received its official designation through a federal bill signed in 2006. Since then, the Moosalamoo Association has had better access to funding that contributes to the upkeep of the more than 80 miles of trails that stretch over a vast 20,000 acre swath of land. Of that land, about 80 percent is federal land and the rest a combination of nonprofit, state and private ownership.
Bruce Brown, one of the association’s founding members, on Wednesday said the planned purchase of the ski center and land would be a positive step forward for the organization.
“It would define us more than just on paper,” he said. “We would actually have a footprint in the forest.”
And, he added, the board already views the Blueberry Hill area as the nerve center of the whole operation, so the placement would be ideal.
At Monday’s meeting, Clark said that the eventual hope would be to hire an executive director for the association, who would have an office in the ski center building.
Upon further questioning, the 66-year-old Clark said that his other reason for selling the land was to scale back his operations, potentially in preparation for his retirement. He said that operating both the inn and ski center was difficult and cited several other joint inn and ski centers that had closed because of the difficulty of running two operations.
“The cost is phenomenal,” said Clark. “It doesn’t pay the bills.”
But Clark said later that full retirement was at least another four or five years down the line.
At the meeting, members of the planning commission stated that the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area was not included in the last town plan, which was completed three years ago. For the next town plan, they said, they hoped to add the area and its potential impacts on the town.
The commission’s main questions for Clark centered around the association’s stated goals to promote the recreation area, and the town’s worries about potential increases in traffic. Several people pointed out that any increase in traffic would further degrade Goshen’s roads, a cost that would be transferred to the taxpayers.
An attendee pointed out that the roads were currently in a very bad state. Selectman David McKinnon said the high cost of gravel replacement as the reason that the roads were in bad shape.
Clark said there was no guarantee of an increase in visitor traffic if he sells his property to the association, but said he knew many locals who would benefit from increased recreational offerings in the area.
He added that one of his options was to sell the center to another owner, but he preferred to sell it to a nonprofit to ensure its long-term accessibility to everyone.
“I’m a steward of this land, not an owner,” said Clark. “Blueberry Hill is one of few areas not posted. I’m protecting this gem for future generations.”
Clark also acknowledged that, in the past, he had not been very communicative with the town about plans for his own land or the forest land under the purview of the Moosalamoo Association. In part, he said, this was what had spurred a rash of rumors that recently had been flying around town about the decisions he was making about his property.
Members of the planning commission agreed that they had felt themselves to be out of the loop on Clark’s plans. Especially at this meeting, they said, their main hope was to get a clearer grasp of Clark’s plans for the land.
Clark said that in the coming years, he would attend meetings more regularly with updates on what was happening around Blueberry Hill.
LEGAL BARRIER TO SALE
Lack of communication wasn’t the only issue at hand, though. The commission discussed the feasibility of presenting Clark with a legal barrier from selling the land, suggesting that he had to go through a lengthier process to separate the parcels of land on which the inn and the ski center sit.
But Zoning Administrator David Wetmore said that there was little legal recourse for the town, as the two parcels were already separated by a road, which created a natural barrier, and neither one would be used for a different purpose after the sale.
Tam Stewart, a member of the planning commission and until recently also a member of the Moosalamoo Association, cited the language that the Moosalamoo Association has been using in its plans as another source of contention. He said the association had said it hoped “to develop the area as a center of tourism in the region.” He also cited the association’s use of the terms “marketing” and “branding.”
“Those are strong tools,” he said. “We want to make sure that it is all brought to bear in ways that are agreeable to the townspeople.”
Ultimately, though, he said he felt the two parties could reach a compromise.
“(The Moosalamoo Association and Goshen) would be benefited by some sort of a synergy,” he said. “There must be some way we can pull this off.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.