Construction start nearing for Aeolus Spa

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MANCHESTER >> After seven years in the planning, the owners of the soon-to-be-built Aeolus Mountain Spa are hoping to break ground on their project sometime this summer, with an eye toward having the 80-room facility open by October or November 2017.

In a sense, ground has already been broken in two ways — once for work on a geothermal system which will provide for some of the proposed spa's energy needs, and secondly for an archeological excavation of one portion of the 44.37 acre site which sits along Route 7A on the northern edge of town. The excavation was prompted by the discovery of a small number of native American artifacts estimated to have been used more than 10,000 years ago.

The spa will be a different sort of resort from others already here or contemplated for the region, said Alpaslan Basdogan and Suzanne Tremblay, the co-owners and business partners in the venture, and they hope to bring people from an up to now under-represented segment of the travel market, This will be a place where travelers seeking to "get away from it all" will come for spa treatments, hiking, biking, healthy food and touring parts of Vermont will be attracted. The combination of Turkish, Mediterranean and European theme is designed encourage relaxation and personal renewal, they said during a tour of the site earlier this week.

"I always wanted to do a lifestyle spa," said Basdogan, a local businessman who owns the restaurant and furniture store Depot 62 and whose family has been in the textile business for four generations. "We travel a lot and we always complain 'why don't they do this?' — so it was about time. (Other) people are not doing, so why don't we do it?"

"We don't want to take other people's business," Tremblay added. "We want to bring new people who understand that this way of life is something that is now within reach."

In between unwinding at the spa, guests will also be enabled to venture out into the surrounding countryside on customized daytrips and tours to find out what lies beyond the entrance to the resort, currently an open field that slopes downward from north to south on the eastern side of Main Street/Route 7A in the vicinity of Town Hall.

Plans unveiled three years ago called for a H-shaped building with one wing for the spa and another for a 160-seat restaurant, galleries and workshop areas. The 80 rooms are set up to allow for courtyards on either end of the spa, which will be fashioned in the traditional Turkish or "Hamman" style, which according to Wikipedia, emphasizes water instead of ambient steam. There are a couple of stages to the process, beginning with a warmup before washing in cold water. A concluding period of massage and relaxation in a cool room follows.

An existing barn will be renovated to serve as storage and warehousing and also teaching space. Basdogan wants to offer instruction on weaving and textiles there. A farmhouse next to the former barn will be restored and used as a guesthouse, according to the original local permit issued by the town's Development Review Board in August, 2012.

In between then and now, Basdogan and Tremblay had to overcome at least two appeals by nearby neighbors as they proceeded towards obtaining a needed state Act 250, or land use permit. One involved concerns about potentially excessive amounts of treated wastewater being discharged into the nearby Battenkill; another concerned changes made to the original site plan approved by the DRB which should have remanded the permit back for further review. Both appeals were eventually settled, and in one case the planting of an additional tree to provide more screening from the resort appears to have helped reach a settlement, according to Environmental Court documents.

Meanwhile, an excavation for the site's historical significance that is required under Act 250 turned up evidence that native Americans from the so-called Paleo-Indian period — 10-12,000 years ago — had been active here. A portion of the northern end of the site, an elevated terrace-like section where the parking lot will eventually be constructed was studied, before the archeologists zeroed in on a smaller section, about 12 to 24 square meters, which will be more extensively examined, said Scott Dillon, a state survey archeologist.

This is on a portion of the site far enough away from where the main building is planned for construction, and their work will not impede or delay building plans, he said.

A small number of artifacts, including one that appears to have been used as a scraping tool has been found, but overall, the site appears to be what he termed a "low density" site — one not occupied for very long or by large numbers of the original inhabitants of the area, he said.

Nevertheless, the antiquity and rareness of such sites prompted a further study beyond the initial ones triggered under Act 250, and Basdogan, who Dillon praised for being very cooperative when it came to their research, has engaged the New Hampshire-based Monadnock Archeology Firm to complete the work, Dillon said.

"This spring and summer we'll be doing a 'data recovery excavation,'" he said, "taking out a larger sample of the site within the core site. The site was close to being non-significant given the low density of the artifacts found, but given its antiquity it was enough to bring it over the edge and that's why we're doing the data recovery here."

Basdogan said he hoped that they might be able to display some of the artifacts at the spa when the research was completed.

The archeological work caught the attention of one of the spa's neighbors, Dee Myrvang, who thought it was a fascinating piece of early Vermont history, before it was Vermont.

"I come from the 'let's be a good neighbor and do smart planning' but also let's preserve our history of the area and what is there to be found," she said.

But this is not expected to impact the start of construction, and after all the time and money spent obtaining the needed permits and other preliminary work, they are eager to get started, both Tremblay and Basdogan said.

"I will be very happy when we are in operation," Basdogan said.


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