Hampton review done

MANCHESTER - In a special meeting Friday, the planning commission drafted and approved a letter to send to the Act 250 district environmental commission regarding the proposed Hampton Inn and Suites projects.

In the letter, the commission decided to address two issues they felt were important: landscaping and the impact on local businesses. In order for items to be included in the letter, all members of the commission had to vote unanimously on the language used.

"Streetscape plantings and the further screening of buildings with the use of low lying bushes, hedges and similar landscaping is recommended by the Commission. Re-use of as many on-site trees as possible is strongly encouraged and applicants are advised to work with a certified arborist to ensure the best possible plan," the letter reads.

Dead or diseased trees should be replaced with the appropriate caliper plantings was also included in the letter, something the Development Review Board also discussed with the applicant.

The commission discussed whether or not it was their place to put language into this letter. In the end, they decided to include it.

"Notwithstanding the positive effects of the project, the Commission remains concerned about the impacts to the existing 26 lodging establishments," the letter reads. In the meeting, the commission presented some questions and requests to the Hampton Inn representatives and discussed how they would impact the project.

While a previous meeting was held to hear a presentation of the project and take public comment on the subject, on more than one occasion during this meeting, the audience needed to be reminded that the time for public comment had closed. Some of the concerns raised by the public were reiterations of what had been stated before. The economic impact to the other lodging establishments was brought up on multiple occasions. Joy Slusarek, owner of JOY All Things Underthings wanted to know more about what kinds of retail would be going into the three retail buildings at the front of the building.

Currently, there is an appeal pending on the permit for the Hampton Inn and Suites. Steve Bauer, the owner of the Inn at Willow Pond, filed the appeal. While only his name appears on the court documents, he said he has filed this on behalf of himself and other owners of lodging establishments in the area.

"We feel there is a whole bunch of things that don't conform to the Town Plan and town bylaws," he said in a phone interview.

Kevin Mullaney, vice-president if Mullaney Hospitality Group, said they were disappointed to hear Bauer had filed an appeal that would delay the opportunity to move forward on the project.

"We recently met with Steve Bauer and he understands that the Hampton Inn will raise the tide for all which will likely increase the overall occupancy rate throughout Manchester. We understand that some lodging owners are still concerned," he said in a statement. "During our discussion with Steve, we collectively came up with a plan that will help establish a local lodging association for Manchester, and we have volunteered to Fund a tourism and hospitality industry consultant to help drive this effort, and we would also fund a marketing budget for the association."

Mullaney said they would be willing to create this association now, two years before the Hampton Inn would open. He said they feel this is a way to boost innkeepers' bottom line immediately and to form an alliance that would benefit everyone.

"We're hopeful that these ideas will show that we are truly looking to partner with all of the lodging owners, and will take responsibility for bringing in our own, new customers to Manchester," Mullaney said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. "We are dismayed that the appeal filed by Mr. Bauer appears to be primarily for anti-competition purposes. Since the appeal process is costly, we would rather spend the money on this proposed marketing plan that will help all, rather than attorneys to fight Mr. Bauer."

When Bauer was asked for a comment on Mullaney's statement, he said he preferred not to comment, because he would but speaking just for himself and not the group as a whole. Another meeting of the group is scheduled for Friday morning, Bauer said.

As of 3:30 p.m., the Vermont Superior Court Environmental Division had not yet received the statement of questions, needed for the appeal, from Bauer.


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