Hotel/Retail complex raises concerns

Our Town Boards have approved the Hampton Inn and Retail Complex just south of town center on Route 7A. We feel that these Boards have not done their job in serving and protecting the well-being of Manchester's residents and business community.

An appeal of the DRB's issuance of the conditional permit has been filed. We fully support this appeal. We represent business owners, residents and innkeepers of the Northshire. While the developer of this project has attempted to label those opposed to this project as "anti-competitive," the fact remains that the project raises host of concerns that have not received full and appropriate review by the respective Town Boards. Development in our town, like many others, is guided by the town plan, which was developed by the Planning Commission. One of the guidelines of the Town Plan is to provide for the protection of local businesses: "While perhaps seeking new enterprises, the Town must also pay attention to and nourish existing businesses, many of which have been quiet mainstays of our economy, supporters of schools and non-profits, and contributors to the fabric of our community."

There are currently 26 locally-owned lodging properties in Manchester. These businesses represent a significant portion of our local economy. The addition of a large "branded" hotel chain in our Town has the potential to destroy the economic viability of these lodging properties. The current occupancy rate for lodging properties in Bennington County is approximately 34 percent, a rate which makes sustainability a constant challenge. Coming on the heels of the recently approved eighty-five (85) room hotel at the former Village Country Inn site less than a mile up the road, the project contemplates the addition of 98 more rooms to the Town's inventory. The addition of 183 hotel rooms in town could conceivably push a substantial number of local lodging facilities into bankruptcy or out of business. The implications for the local economy and local tax base are obvious. Despite this, no economic impact studies relative to the addition of the project have been undertaken nor considered. Beyond the potential economic impact of this project, the very character of our town is at stake. As a tourist town, one of the things that makes us unique is the lack of branded hotels and the many local lodging facilities run by local members of the community. If the Project is approved and the local lodging facilities slowly disappear, what will this do to the character of our town?

Do we really want Manchester to be a Town whose character is branded hotel chains? We know that none of us want big box stores in Town like Wal-Mart or Home Depot - what is so different about a Hampton Inn? The Manchester 2020 Collaborative Process conducted last year pointedly named three business categories that Manchester does not need any more of: Convenience stores, discount retail outlets and lodging. One need look no further than Bennington or Rutland to see that once thriving "Mom & Pop" motels that were once tourist mainstays have been relegated to providing subsidized weekly rentals in the shadows of local Hampton Inns in those towns.

Recently, the Hampton Inn Developers (the Mullaney Group) offered a $35,000 payoff to the Manchester lodging members to withdraw the current appeal. The proposal included funding the development of a new local lodging association and the hiring of a professional hospitality consultant. However, this offer also came with the following proviso: "The proposal is effective until August 4, 2014 and is contingent upon the dismissal of the appeal to the Superior Court/ Environmental Division and all other actions delaying the project. Should the offer not be accepted, all proposed association funds will be allocated instead to legal efforts to overturn the appeal." In addition to the economic and character issues raised by the Hampton Inn project, some other concerns related to the town plan include: (1) The lack of a detailed and appropriate landscaping plan; (2) The impact on sight lines of Equinox and Mother Myrick mountains; (3) The significant alteration of the streetscape via the addition of three two-story, 7,000sf retail buildings along the western side of Rt. 7A; (4) The lack of a traffic study to determine the impact of high volume traffic at traditional check-in times (2-6 p.m.), in concert with release of nearby high school traffic, prime time use of Shaw's supermarket and end-of-day worker traffic, in addition to the impact on bike traffic; and, (5) The impact to the residents at adjacent Hillvale. We believe the Town's review Boards did not thoroughly examine all of the ramifications that this Project demands. We believe it moved too swiftly and without adequate review. Therefore, we support the appeal of the DRB decision. We encourage local businesses and residents to join us in demanding further consideration of this project.

Pat Barnett is a resident of Manchester and an owner of the Manchester View motel.


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