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DRB hears preliminary plans for reopening Maple Valley, wants more details

DUMMERSTON—After a site visit and two hours of public discussion last week, the Development Review Board (DRB) said that it wants to hear more about a plan to reopen the former Maple Valley Ski Area as a four-season recreation center.

Owner Nicholas Mercede, of Brookline and Connecticut, doing business as MVS Associates of Stamford, Conn., and his lawyer, Christopher Dugan, were told by the DRB to return on July 26 at 7 p.m. with a sharpened-up proposal for the 300-acre site.

Dugan noted that the plans were really “a conceptual thing,” and he expected a variety of changes and additions.

Before the June 21 meeting, an intensely interested crowd of about 75 abutters, skiers, and other interested parties toured the property, which has been closed since 2001.

A visit to the base lodge elicited “time capsule” remarks, since the place remains mostly untouched.

Ten-year-old cafeteria food prices (a small coffee cost 50 cents, French toast was $2.50) and other decade-old signs could be seen, and aside from some mustiness, the building appeared in good shape.

At the meeting, several board members expressed skepticism about the plan, noting its absence of specificity relating to environmental considerations, including permitting, crowd estimates, lighting, snowmaking, traffic, noise, new construction, parking, new access roads, drainage, and septic systems.

The current proposal does not call for any significant changes to the existing lodge or the trail system, but it does set out some concepts for new uses of the site.

Apart from downhill skiing and snowboarding, winter uses would include ice skating, tobogganing, and cross-country skiing.

Spring and summer would see mountain biking, hiking, outdoor leadership skills training, paintball games, and other events at Maple Valley, while the fall would see the ski lifts used for foliage viewing.

The ski lodge would be available for conferences, charity events, concerts, and trade shows, and the plan also described “financial opportunities,” such as siting a cell phone tower or operating commercial ventures like a bicycle repair shop, a ski shop, or a restaurant.

Mercede told the DRB that said he wanted “to make [Maple Valley] like it was,” but add new uses.

He amused the audience when Dugan, listing zip lines as a possible activity, generated the following response from Mercede: “What the hell is that?”

DRB member Lew Sorensen later said, “It was clear to most folks that the application was not fleshed out. The site plan has to be more than a narrative.”

On a more nostalgic note, he pointed out that “a lot of people have fond memories of the place.”

The ski area was designed and built by Terry Tyler in 1963 and was a popular destination for local skiers.

Sorensen said most of the concerns voiced by those attending were requests for more information, rather than complaints.

The concerns they voiced were related to noise from snowmaking and light pollution. When Maple Valley was open, it offered night skiing and used snowmaking to fill in the gaps when natural snow cover was spotty.

Several of those attending the meeting asked that during the next application period, application materials be made available to the public, as well as site plans and other exhibits.

Later, Douglas Hamilton, a Dummerston lister, pointed out that any new uses of the property would require a reappraisal, so tax revenue has not yet been part of lister consideration.

“At least two other people were interested in reopening the place, but the banks wouldn’t give them any money,” Hamilton said.

Even if the DRB approves Mercede’s proposal, Dugan said that it would take up a year to do everything needed to reopen the ski area.

The work does not include required state inspections and permits for the trail lighting system, the ski lifts, the septic system and the lodge, which could lead to additional delays if more upgrades are needed.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #107 (Wednesday, June 29, 2011).

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