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Balsams Site Plan Review Application still not complete

LANCASTER – The Coos County Planning Board reached consensus at a nearly four-hour-long meeting on Tuesday night that the site plan review application for the redevelopment and expansion of the ski area at The Balsams, submitted by development team members Burt Mills and Ed Brisson of Dixville Capital LLC still does not have all the needed information.

The board set its next meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 23, in Lancaster to review the draft document drawn up to record the conditions of two previously agreed-to subdivisions and two lot-line adjustments.

Since it is unlikely that developer will be able to check off every item and fill every gap on the board’s list of missing items, the board agreed to set a “date certain” in September after it is assured everything is in order.

The developers admitted that they still have not applied for the all-important alteration-of-terrain permits from the state Department of Environmental Services, which often requires a two-to-three-month turnaround period. Gathering the detailed information required for DES review is a costly proposition, they pointed out.

Once the planning board determines that an application is complete, a public hearing must be held. Only then will the board begin the actual review process and set conditions.

Dixville Capital’s attorney is working out an safety plan to address the board’s concern about ice throw and other potential hazards around the Granite Reliable wind towers (owned by Brookfield Power) in the expanded high-elevation ski area, based on an engineer’s report, board attorney Bernie Waugh reported.

Board member Tom McCue noted that ATV riders in Berlin are getting dangerously close to the blades of some operating wind towers in order to take dramatic-looking selfies.

Board member Mike Waddell said that after working on Mount Washington for 20 years he really understands that falling ice kills people. The Tramway Board of the state Department of Safety will have to agree to any plan.

The board also asked for design, but not construction drawings, of the proposed ski-back bridge over Route 26 as well as a letter from the state Department of Transportation that it has approved the plan. Building both a gondola and the ski-back bridge would reduce the number of parking spaces needed at the expanded ski area, since hotel and condo guests would be able to go directly to the village “campus” either on skis or on foot.

The board and the developers noted during the site plan review discussion that a site plan can be amended, if need be.

The application requests approval of the entire ski terrain: lifts, including the gondola; snowmaking and three associated support buildings; trails; ski-back bridge and service roads.

It does not include the existing shuttered Wilderness Base Lodge or a proposed mid-mountain lodge. The developers have agreed that the adequacy of parking would have to be demonstrated before opening new ski terrain.

The meeting was marked early on by a heated interchange between Waddell and the developers due to a misunderstanding over the scope of the application, likely exacerbated by continuing this agenda item at least twice.

At meeting’s end, Dixville Capital spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said that longtime ski area developer Les Otten and other stakeholders have arranged for financing from Northern Bank & Trust Company, a community bank in Woburn, Mass., as well as private equity.

Dixville Capital has not yet applied for the $28 million “credit enhancement” from the Business Finance Authority, but does plan to.

Art Greene of Littleton attended the meeting on behalf of Trout Unlimited that is interested in the developer’s permit to withdraw snowmaking water from the Androscoggin River at Errol.

Development team member Dave Norden has left the Balsams project to be the CEO of Taos Ski Valley, where he started work on July 25. The online announcement points out that he will oversee all resort operations, including the launch of the Blake, a new slopeside hotel. A hedge fund billionaire bought the resort in late 2013.