Inn appealed

MANCHESTER - An appeal of the local zoning permit issued to the Hampton Inn and Suites project stresses concerns surrounding sight lines, traffic and streetscape landscaping.

The appeal, filed July 3 by Steve Bauer, owner of the Inn at Willow Pond, includes a statement of questions with the Vermont Superior Court Environmental Division, nine questions posed to the applicant of the permit, the Mullaney Hospitality group.

The appeal focuses on inconsistencies between Manchester zoning bylaws and the applicant's permit and application, Bauer said.

"(The) Application should include, but does not, sight lines and elevations to the ridgelines which is necessary to evaluate the impact of the new larger buildings on blocking the pedestrian and vehicular views of the Equinox Mountain and Mother Myrick Mountain ridgelines, which impacts the Appellant as an individual and as a tourism based business owner dependent on scenic streetscapes," the statement from Bauer reads.

Sal Asciutto, owner of the Olympia Lodge, said that it seemed that sight lines were overlooked in the review of the project. He quoted directly from the zoning bylaws when discussing this.

"Consideration shall be given to the retention of significant topographic features of the site, and the relationship to the surrounding properties. Buildings and structures shall be sited below ridgelines," he said, reading from the town's zoning bylaws. "Was this not taken into consideration as far as the ridgelines?"

Along with the issues regarding the ridgelines, an area of great concern Asciutto said had to with traffic conditions and safety. Bauer mentioned these concerns in his clarifying statements.

"The traffic study [presented in the application submitted by Mullaney Hospitality Group] was based on when Price Chopper was interested in the property," Asciutto said. "The other hotel [The redevelopment of the former Village Country Inn property with 87 rooms] was not even thought of...or the event barn at the Inn at Manchester."

Asciutto and Bruce Welsh, co-owner of the Aspen Motel, both said the amount of traffic from Shaw's, Maple Street School and other educational institutions, as well as the hotel traffic would put too much strain on the traffic situation on Route 7A. The new Dunkin' Donuts, directly opposite what would be the Hampton Inn and Suites location, would also add to the traffic pressures, they mentioned.

Bauer said a landscaping plan was not included in the permit application, and that the importance of making sure mature trees were saved in the site's redevelopment. All three men felt that the streetscape needed to be protected and nearly all the trees would not be able to be moved to a new location on the site.

Welsh, along with Asciutto and Bauer, felt the process of issuing this permit was rushed and not given the proper amount of consideration, by the Design and Development Review Boards and the Planning Commission, as well as the public.

John O'Keefe, town manager, said the town will support its permit in court, because they believe they issued a lawful permit. However, this does not mean they are aligned with the Hampton Inn against the innkeepers, he said.

Tricia Hayes, public relations consultant to the Mullaney Hospitality Group, said the traffic study presented was based on the study completed for the Price Chopper application, but was updated this spring as required as a part of the permit application.

As a part of the permit, the Mullaney Hospitality Group agreed to try and save as many existing trees as possible. Both the DRB and planning commission brought up this issue. For trees that cannot be saved, they will be replaced with an "appropriate caliper" tree, as stated in their permit, Allison Hopkins, zoning administrator and director of planning said.

Throughout the presentations regarding the application submitted by the Mullaney Hospitality Group, they expressed they wanted to become active business members in Manchester. This would include joining the Manchester and the Mountains Cham ber of Commerce, as well as potentially working with owners of lodging establishments to create an innkeepers association.

After the appeal was filed and became public record, Kevin Mullaney, vice-president of Mullaney Hospitality Group, issued a statement last Thursday.

The Mullaney Hospitality Group had met with Bauer prior to the statement's release and proposed the formation of a lodging association to assist all owners to increase their occupancy, according to the statement.

The proposal includes the creation of an innkeeper or lodging association, the potential creation of a shuttle bus service and targeting marketing efforts to make Manchester a focal point.

"This 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," he said in the statement. "Should the offer not be accepted, all proposed association funds will be allocated instead to legal efforts to overturn the appeal."

The Mullaney Group is offering to commit in excess of $35,000 to the lodging association effort effective immediately, should the appeal be dropped, according to the statement.

While Bauer filed the appeal, he is supported by Asciutto, Welsh and other concerned residents and hospitality business owners. Asciutto, Bauer and Welsh declined to comment whether or not the appeal would be dropped. However, they did say the offer of $35,000 and other incentives, such as the innkeepers association and marketing efforts was completely unnecessary and irrelevant.

On July 28, Mullaney released another statement stating that they believe the Hampton Inn would be serving a new segment in Manchester. The proposed inn will not compete directly with any existing lodging establishments, but would bring new customers to Manchester.

Meanwhile, after the planning commission meeting on July 9, Linda Benway, owner of the Casablanca Motel, submitted a letter of complaint to the select board regarding an alleged conversation between former planning chairman Bill Drunsic and Mullaney. Drunsic had previously taken a leave of absence, effective July 19, due to his involvement in a separate appeal of a previous DRB decision regarding a permit issued, allowing a Starbucks coffeehouse to open.

In the letter to the select board, Benway recounted a conversation she overheard.

"I heard to the best of my recollection, the following, 'I think (pause) that if you were to make a substantial donation to the Chamber... to... say promote small business over the next five years'...that the Board would have no problem approving this project," she wrote.

In a response to her letter, Ivan Beattie, chairman of the select board said that it appeared there was a conversation between the former planning commission chairman and the applicant, including the dialogue she paraphrased.

"The planning commission took no action on that alleged offer, and it remains simply a conversation," he wrote.

Beattie also acknowledged that Drunsic had previously asked for a leave of absence and that the select board had accepted the request.

Drunsic said the overheard conversation was taken completely out of context.

"The alleged complaint, I guess is a result of the overhearing of a partial conversation by another individual between myself and Kevin Mullaney after the [July 9] Hampton Inn hearing and it was taken 180 degrees out of context," he said. "That conversation was strictly in relation to floating an idea about a possible mitigation plan, related to the Hampton Inn project to help out the local innkeepers. And any sum of money that was discussed at that time was directly related to a concept idea of marketing the local innkeepers and other possible assistance that may be of value to them."


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