DRB to consider falconry school application

MANCHESTER - After about a six month absence, the sport of falconry may make its return to Manchester.

On March 28, Jeffrey Nyweide and Shelly Gibson submitted an application to the town that, if ap proved, would allow what has been pasture land to be used as a location for a new falconry school.

The proposed site is located at 527 Benson Road in Manchester - which is south of Exit 4 on Route 7 and in close proximity to East Manchester Road - and the school would be owned and operated by Robert Waite, the former manager of the British School of Falconry.

The application will be discussed at the next Development Re view Board meeting that is scheduled to take place on Wed nesday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

"In order for the board to grant an approval they have to go through the conditional use review criteria," said zoning administrator Allison Hopkins. "Some of those things look at traffic impacts, impacts to community facilities, impacts to adjoining property owners."

The traffic is one of the things that concerns Susan Benson who lives on the road that would be traveled to get to school.

"It's a residential area that can't handle this," Benson said. "It's a back road in Vermont. It's going to put the kind of traffic that I don't think anybody wants in their neighborhood."

The road is already somewhat heavily traveled in part due to the amount of hikers that are there 12 months a year, Benson said.

She is also concerned about parking issues surrounding the school. However, Hopkins said she does anticipate any problems with parking as the proposed site is located on 54 acres of land.

Hopkins said the applicant would come to the meeting to give a better understanding of the operation and answer questions such as how many people would, or could, attend at a given time, what are the times lessons would be given, when are the birds are the most active as well as others. Hopkins said that she does not anticipate any problems with emergency vehicles getting to the location or any environmental impacts with the proposed site, which are questions that are also typically raised during a hearing.

The British School of Falconry, which operated out of Hildene and was used almost exclusively by the Equinox Resort and Spa, closed last November after 18 years.

According to Waite, if the application is approved, the tentative plan is to enter into a lease agreement with Nyweide and Gibson and open Green Mountain Falconry School.

When the British School of Falconry closed in November, the birds - which included 14 Harris Hawks, two eagles and a falcon - were divided between Waite and senior instructor Dawn Decrease. Currently, Waite has five Harris Hawks, an eagle and a falcon that are currently being housed on his property.

The British School of Falconry was notified by Hildene at least three years ago that they would eventually have to relocate. During that time, about a dozen potential locations were examined, but none proved to be a viable option for relocating the school.

"I'd thought I'd exhausted all the possibilities because we'd had about three years notice that the British School of Falconry was going to have to relocate," said Waite. "So, I spent those three years trying to find a suitable site for the British School of Falconry and failed. And then I guess [in] late summer, early fall (of last year) is when I first heard about the potential for the site that I'm hoping to use."

The new location came about because Nyweide and his family had been through the falconry and archery programs at the British School of Falconry and when they heard that the school was closing they offered the use of their property as a new location.

If Waite is successful in opening the school, he said it would be operated seasonally from May until the end of October.

If it were to come to fruition, Waite said he believes he may well have a number of patrons as he has compiled a long list of people who - in the time since the British School of Falconry closed - are interested in finding out if and when his school will open.

"That was definitely a factor that gave me encouragement to just sort of dig my heels in and keep charging ahead here because it has been a bit of a struggle getting everything together and continues to be with the permitting," said Waite. "But knowing that there is a huge interest is a luxury that many new businesses don't have. So, I know I have a huge number of people that are very, very behind this. They're wanting to come back. Ready to come back."

In addition, Waite said that while the Green Mountain Falconry School will be an independent school he would still have a connection with the Equinox Resort and Spa.

"I'm very much tied in with the hotel. They'll be marketing me. I'll be on their website and so I will be offering lessons to their guests," he said.

When the British School of Falconry was operating in Manchester, co-founder of the school Emma Ford said that it was popular since its inception. During its 18 years of operation, about 50,000 people went through the program.

Due in part because to the amount of people that went through the program while it was in Manchester - which was somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 annually - Ford said she believes the school is a good thing for the town.

"I think it brings people into the area," she said. "People come and then inevitably they're going to go shopping and they're going to eat in restaurants and that sort of thing."

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