On Thursday, Feb. 28 Jim Haff, former Selectman, hosted a
meeting with state representatives at the offices of SP Land
Company to discuss some recent developments in Town of Killington
and some of the roadblocks preventing faster progress. The meeting
was attended by Steve Selbo, president of SP Land, Mike Solimano,
president and general manager of Killington Resort and Pico
Mountain, Seth Webb, Killington town manager, and Tao Smith,
headmaster of Killington Mountain School, who each briefed the
panel on projects underway and long term goals. Also in attendance
were Phil Black, owner of the Lookout Tavern, representing the
Killington Chamber, Vito Rasenas, self-described "community
activist," and Jeff Temple, director of mountain operations at
Killington/Pico. Representatives from the state included Secretary
Lawrence Miller from Agency of Commerce and Community Development,
Kiersten Bourgeois, senior project manager with the Agency of
Commerce and the new contact for Connect Vermont, and Christine
Thompson director of Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection
The two hour meeting was educational, even if solutions were not
After presenting an overview of the Village Master Plan, Selbo
explained an unusual obstacle he was facing in three regional
planning commissions that had teamed up to insist upon a legacy
agreement from 1998 (made when American Ski Company owned
Killington and had their own village plan.) That agreement would
hold SP Land partially responsible for over 130 miles of roads and
17 major intersections along the Routes 4/100/103 corridors. The
three planning commissions working together are Rutland RPC, Two
Rivers-Ottauquechee RPC and Southern Windsor Country RPC, Selbo
said. They are three of the 11 total regional planning commissions
in the state.
"Regional planning commissions get money from VTrans, so it's
good to know when they are off-rail," said Secretary Miller.
According to Selbo, the three planning commissions continue to
insist upon the legacy agreement despite the fact that VTrans
approved the traffic impact study for the first phase of the
project and found there to be minimal impact on transportation.
Selbo says there has been an ongoing attempt to speak with the
executive directors of the regional planning commissions but little
progress has been made. He noted that the new executive director of
the Rutland RPC, Kris Hughes, has brought a new opportunity to
discuss the issues. SP Land believes progress is now being made
with the Rutland RPC.
Vermont's Act 250, also known as the Land Use and Development Act,
was established in 1970 to review large-scale development projects
using 10 criteria designed to safeguard the environment, community
life, and aesthetic character of the state.
SP Land has been working toward developing the Village at the
base of Killington Resort since 2008. They completed their Act 250
submittal in February of 2012 and have been "working with ANR since
to come up with agreeable solutions to a couple of items, which we
hope to have wrapped up next week," said Selbo. Four weeks of open
evidence will follow, which Selbo hopes will end by April. "It's
been a long 14 month process."
Secretary Miller said that he is aware of this scenario. "There
is a state initiative to give projects an early temperature check
that is honest," he said, that way money and time will not be
wasted. "90% of all permits are on time and with no conditions,"
Miller continued. "But this project is almost exactly what Act 250
was designed for."
Secretary Miller is well aware that the process can take a long
time to get through, but thinks the SP Land's plans for a Village
are "entirely consistent with Killington's general land use
The timeline and general uncertainty, however, makes it very
difficult for the resort and town to make other plans for
Killington Resort and Pico Mountain President Mike Solimano knows
infrastructure at the Resort needs improvement, "especially our two
main base lodges, Snowshed and Ramshead lodges" he noted, but says
its difficult when "for 15 years we've been planning to rip them
down." Indeed, most long-term plans depend largely on whether or
not the Village will be built. "It determines the focus entirely,"
The Resort and town have the capacity to feed and sleep
thousands of visitors and the terrain to keep skiers and riders
challenged and entertained, but without improvements to
infrastructure, Killington is not able to keep up with its
competitors, Solimano said.
"We hope the Village will contribute to increased destination
visits, where people plan longer stays here," he said. "We have a
really big resort that people want to come to for a week, we have
the terrain, but we're missing some of the off-mountain things,
that's where the growth is… we're trying to figure out how to pack
in 50% more each day… we have a lot of excess capacity
Waiting for the Village plans to go through, is holding up summer
investments too, says Solimano. "It's hard to know where to invest
in summer, when the plans keeps changing… do you go and build
something in the middle up there based on one plan? We just don't
Town Manager Seth Webb presented an overview of the Economic
Development initiatives the Town is pursuing and discussed how
state funds could continue to support the Town. His presentation
reviewed investments in a municipal Golf Course, marketing and
events, a feasibility study for creating a municipal water system
in conjunction with the ski village, plans to enhance the gateway
and Killington Road and more.
Webb also explained how Act 60, which took effect in 1997, has
affected Killington small businesses and residents. He showed a
chart illustrating the increase in property tax paid in 1996
compared with 2012, and noted that Killington competes with other
resort communities beyond Vermont's boarders.
"Frankly, I really don't see a constitutional amendment
happening to amend the state's responsibility for education… it is
not likely to go from a state to a local responsibility," said
Secretary Miller. "It was found that there was a fundamental
failure of the state's education system and this was the solution
they came up with," he said, admitting that the current policy is
not a perfect solution either.
Miller strongly encouraged Killington not to expect any major
change in the state tax structure, at least until 2015. "Equity in
state-funded education is part of the Vermont Constitution and that
is not going to change… we came out of the recession better than
our neighboring states, so we are going to be careful not to mess
up what is working with our tax policies."
Act 60, also known as the Equal Educational Opportunity Act, was
signed into law in June 1997 in response to a Vermont Supreme Court
decision (Brigham v. State of Vermont) that said the state must
provide "substantially equal access" to education for all Vermont
students, regardless of where they reside.
Miller pointed to the loss of population in Vermont schools as
another big concern that has further driven up the cost of
education per student. The problem is often attributed to the
larger trend of Vermont losing population, but "Vermont is not
declining faster than the rest of white America," Miller noted.
"The problem is that we lack diversity here, the states that are
growing have diverse populations… We need to be friendly and
welcoming of ethnicity to our towns," Miller said.
Jim Haff, saw the tax burden as an opportunity for the state,
suggesting that the state invest in Killington's growth, because
"the state will get it back in alcohol, room and meals tax," he
said, explaining that, if the leverage investment were to bring in
an additional $3 million in spending, the state would make it back
in taxes collected.
Secretary Miller said municipalities should use their own tax
base for such investments in themselves. "That's exactly what a
municipal tax is for," he said. Adding that the state simply does
not have money to invest in economic development for individual
towns. "The legislature is busy with low income housing and keeping
peoples heat on… last year we had people freeze in their homes when
we ran out of funds… we simply do not have the resources to invest
in town's infrastructure for growth. It just isn't going to
happen," he said. "I think we can all be creative when it comes to
how to get things done smoother and more efficiently… those are the
things we can do to help accelerate the process."
Miller went on to explain that the tourism industry in Vermont
lost credibility in 2008 when an impact study that reported huge
returns in tourism investments was easily shown to be over
inflated. As a result, the state cut the tourism budget from $6
million to $2 million. The situation has improved slightly since
Irene, Miller said, noting that the industry really came together
to report "all roads open." There as been no criticism of tourist
spending, since then, he said. But there has not been an increase
Tao Smith, headmaster of Killington Mountain School, the second
largest business in Killington, told the panel about the
significant growth the school has experienced over the last decade,
and the positive economic impact KMS has had on the Town of
Killington and the Resort. But he also said it was evident that
"Killington suffers from lack of investment in infrastructure."
When being compared to some of the other local offerings "some
families are skipping by us," he said.
KMS currently has about 300 families in the KMS weekend
club, many of whom are desperate to make lifestyle change, Smith
says. "I like to think of us as Killington's most loyal customers;
you've got us rain or shine," he said.
Secretary Miller pointed to these families in addition to the
thousands of weekend visitors that come to Killington each season
as the audience that the town should be targeting for second home
ownership and/or primary home ownership for those that can work
remotely. "You have lifestyle to sell," he said.
Miller admitted that initial investments in growth are often
high for a municipality like Killington, but explained that when a
municipality invests in itself the return over time makes up for
it. "It's like an arc," he said, explaining that the initial
spending to bring more people in is eventually off-set by a larger
and wealthier grand list on which to spread the tax burden.
The discussion came to an end with a greater understanding of
the policies and some of the obstacles those policies create for
Vito Rasenas concluded the meeting pleading for any help the state
could give to move the Village progress along. "The rising
tide lifts all boats," he said.