An architectural rendering of Killington Village Ski Plaza at dusk shows the contemporary style for the planned village. It will be located in the area where Snowshed and Ramshead base lodges currently are.
Good news for Killington Village as SP Land prevails at Act 250 appeal
By Karen D. Lorentz
It’s been a long haul since Feb. 2012 when SP Land Company first presented its Killington Village Master Plan Act 250 application to the District #1 Environmental Commission, but SP Land Company President Steven Selbo received some good news last week in a decision that favorably addresses several key issues that had caused SP Land to appeal its Act 250 permit issued in Oct. 2013.
In the decision rendered on June 21, Judge Thomas S. Durkin of the Superior Court’s Environmental Division (a.k.a. the Environmental Court) largely agreed with the arguments made by SP Land in its appeal of certain conditions and findings in its District #1 Act 250 permit.
The four page Judgement Order, which states new conditions and affirms the need for a village core, was accompanied by an 86-page Decisions on the Merits document which clearly explains the law and thoroughly addresses the issues of the appeal and cross appeal to the Environmental Court.
Selbo commented that he is “very pleased” with the Decision and Judgment Order and the many positive findings.
Asked about the new conditions imposed, he said most are very favorable to SP Land. There are a few that he is still studying, including a short extension of a 25 mph zone proposed for the village area. But he said so far they are minor things that he can live with, and he thinks the investors in the project will be able to accept them. “I’m very positive at this point,” he added.
“It is the first time for a complete village permit to be issued,” commented 20-year Killington resident, former selectman, and Butternut Lodge owner Jim Haff.
“If you recall, SP Land is the only company to get a full Act 250 permit as ASC had partial village approvals. I congratulate SP Land on this step which is further than anyone has ever gotten. Now the Environmental Court has taken them a step further to an actual village. We know there could be another step if this decision is appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, but if they come to the same findings, then the village is a go.
“I applaud SP Land’s not giving up and making good points,” Haff added, putting perspective on a village core that has been on the drawing boards for 49 years, including under previous resort owners Killington Ltd. and ASC.
Court findings, changes
Selbo was “very pleased” with the changes reducing party status of some participants. SP Land prevailed in seeking to limit the scope of party status as to criteria Steve Durkee could participate in and the Court also agreed to objections of party status given to Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission, denying it but making SWCRPC a “friend of the court,’ which allowed participation but no right to appeal.
SP Land also prevailed on its objection to the Act 250 permit condition which required fire suppression sprinkler systems in all residences, not just commercial buildings with retail and/or condo units. SP Land had objected to the fire sprinklers being required in private homes, on the basis that there is no precedent in Vermont for such a condition being imposed on its Ramshead Lot Subdivision single-family homes or duplexes. Selbo had in effect objected to “spot zoning” and the Court agreed, specifying that there was “No evidence presented suggesting any applicable federal, state, or local regulations … imposed on any other development, either in Killington or elsewhere in Vermont.”
Selbo was appreciative of the fairness applied to the project, noting his former objections to not having an equal playing field.
Judge Durkin also supported the design guidelines that had been presented for the Ramshead subdivision “so that was very positive,” Selbo commented.
Mendon resident Steve Durkee, who owns several properties in Killington, cross appealed the 25-lot subdivision approvals SP Land received in its permit. However, SP Land prevailed once again with the Court concluding that the various elements of the proposed 25-Lot Subdivision would “not cause or result in a detriment to the public health, safety or general welfare” and therefore affirmed the District Commission’s approval of the 25-Lot Subdivision.
Selbo commented, “There was strong precedence for this subdivision, and we followed prior precedence and the judge agreed.”
Mr. Durkee’s objection to the village core on aesthetic grounds regarding the scale, massing, height, and form of the structures for Phase I also failed with the Court concluding, “Phase I development will provide positive and not adverse aesthetic impacts.”
In addressing objections to village aesthetics, Judge Durkin noted SP Land “provided a credible contextual presentation, via PowerPoint, for the Phase I development and the overall master plan, including summaries of the existing developments surrounding the Killington Resort and other Vermont ski resort developments.”
He stated, “This design and construction will present a pleasing appearance for the Village Core structures that will allow visitors to recognize the area as an established resort village.”
Most interestingly, Judge Durkin, who had made a site visit, expressed an understanding of both the importance of and need for village centers, noting:
“The proposed Phase I developments will replace aged and somewhat worn Resort facilities at the main base areas with a coordinated redevelopment that will bring more complementary structures and walkways to the existing development. Instead of approaching the main base area via undefined gravel parking lots, a visitor will approach a completed Village Core area that welcomes the visitor with varied architectural styles and building materials, all inspired by historic local and resort styles that will provide a sense of place and encourage visitors to remain in the Village Core area to ski, shop, and relax during vacation visits.”
SP Land appealed what three regional planning commissions had proposed as its share towards a Corridor Study, which would measure village impacts on traffic on Routes 4, 100, and 103. Selbo objected to SP Land having had 100 percent of the private portion of the study cost, which study was estimated at $100,000. He was pleased that Judge Durkin capped SP Land’s contribution at $20,000, noting “the original condition lacked a sense of fairness.” Selbo was also okay with Judge Durkin changing the timing of the contribution to Phase I whereas it was originally to be assessed prior to a Phase II application.
Regarding Judge Durkin’s condition that SP Land undertake traffic studies on Killington Road traffic impacts, Selbo noted he had been “good with that the first time around and it was never an issue,” adding such studies would tie in with future phases anyway.
He did say that the location of the 25 mph limit as imposed by Judge Durkin went beyond where his traffic engineers had recommended the speed reduction occur. The Killington Road’s speed limit from Route 4 remains at 35 mph; but instead of dropping to 25 mph at Road H (vicinity of Mountain Inn/ East Mountain Road and the realiged Killington Road) to slow traffic down for the upcoming new Village Rotary, it will decrease about 400 feet sooner in the vicinity of Lot G. Selbo said SP Land’s traffic consultant had not seen a need for that as clearings would provide the necessary line of sight, but he noted the change is “not a big deal.”
Many of the traffic findings were predicated on an understanding of a Village Core as a generator of longer visits. Judge Durkin stressed that Phase I development will result in stays for several or more nights, and, while generating visits to nearby establishments on the Killington Road (on-mountain trips), he stated those stays are not likely to result in “guests arriving and leaving on the same day” (off-mountain trips), which would increase traffic on the region’s highways.
He also pointed to traffic counts being down to about what they were in 1991 and cited decreases in annual skier visits. Furthermore, he pointed out that Killington is not expanding its resort and therefore day skier visits are not likely to increase.
Additionally, Judge Durkin said that Phase I improvements will “help alleviate the traffic congestion” at the main base area because day skiers will park at the new day-skier lots and either walk to or utilize shuttles to get to the slopes.
Parties have ten court days to file a Motion to Alter with The Environmental Court. The judge has to decide whether to accept such a Motion and can then alter his findings or he can uphold the permit as he conditioned it.
Should he do the latter, a party has 30 days from the June 21 ruling in which to appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Selbo said if no appeal is made, the next step for SP Land is to locate a joint venture partner to develop the project. But before construction could begin, there would have to be presales of units and that requires a significant marketing effort, he noted. The Killington Road reconstruction and other infrastructure would also have to be built, he added.
As for a timeline, this could take several years, Selbo said, noting he had to confirm whether the project starting date has to occur within the seven-year period stated in the original permit or if it would change to a construction start within seven years from the June permit.