MANCHESTER — A meeting between representatives of a planned eco-retreat at the end of Benson Road, some of the neighbors and town staff may have the planned road improvements moving forward.
While there is still opposition, the gathering April 23 was able to identify some areas where the town can mandate changes to the plan to alleviate some of the neighbors’ concerns.
Town Manager John O’Keefe said the group, which included Jeff Williams, director of the Department of Public Works, Christina Haskins, town engineer, neighbors Brian Benson and John Benson, and representatives of the developer, including architect Kirk Moore, walked the road.
They looked at drainage in the area as well as where steep sections of the road would require 165-feet of new guardrail, which Moore agreed to.
The section of the road includes three homes and a vacant lot on the way to the end of the road where the proposed eco-retreat is located at 507 Benson Road.
The project is being developed by Jeff Nyweide, who was represented at the meeting by architect Kirk Moore, who also sent a letter to the Select Board on Monday describing the proposed project on the 54-acre property as an eco-retreat that will host up to 92 guests in 46 single rooms.
The intersection of Lye Brook Falls Road and Benson Road was of particular concern because of the amount of traffic during the summer.
The intersection is such that cars come speeding off Lye Brook Falls road and do not stop as they merge onto Benson Road.
Select Board chair Ivan Beattie suggested moving the intersection slightly away from a house that’s across the street currently, and making the intersection a 90-degree angle with structural changes to prevent cars from rolling through the stop sign.
At the gathering a week ago, it was also agreed to a paved apron at the intersection to help handle the cars that park there to access the Lye Brook Falls hiking trail.
Other parking issues exist closer to East Manchester Road near the bridge where a popular swimming hole is but no decisions were made.
Donna Benson, who lives on the road with her husband John, asked what the town planned to do about speeding.
“If this road goes through, how often will they be controlling speeders?” she asked.
She pointed out that cars currently travel 50 mph on a dirt road. She said when it’s paved who is going to control it.
Beattie said it would require signage and enforcement.
Included in Moore’s letter were more details about the road improvement project.
Moore said the required improvements of widening existing roads to 20 feet and paving, improvements made to a culvert near the end of Benson Road, does not require engineering and, the letter says, the town engineer, project engineer, town manager, and public works agree.
Moore also said that the state, after visiting the site and reviewing the scope of work, said no permits would be required.
The letter also included details about the cost, which Nyweide will pay the town to cover. The agreement includes a budget of $90,000, which is subject to change based on bids received before construction begins.
Moore said Nyweide would place funds in escrow and will reimburse any additional costs before a certificate of occupancy would be issued.
“It is, in my opinion, a unique project that brings a great deal of benefit to our community on many levels,” Moore wrote.
Moore said the economic benefit will be spread around, including times when large events exceeded the capacity for the resort to handle.
“More visitors benefit not only the small businesses [like] retail stores, restaurants, service businesses, but also other hotels, the ski mountains, and non-profits.”
Moore also said the resort, which is expected to add 30 to 35 jobs — mostly full-time — was anticipated to increase the property tax revenue and local option tax revenue by $114,000 per year, increase visitors to town by 22,850 and increase spending by nearly $5 million per year.
“Over the past several years there has been a great deal of discussion in town on how we can attract more visitors here,” Moore wrote. “The proposed project will do just that and in a significant way.”
And, Moore said, the resort planned to offer farm-to-table offerings spreading the impact to local produce, dairy, meat and beverage producers, and guests will be encouraged to take advantage of all the area offers visitors. But opposition remains. Several people spoke against the project — and the road improvements to serve the development — and Michael Nawrath wrote a letter to the board listing some of his concerns, to which Moore responded with his letter.
Moore contested the number of vehicles some claimed would be added to town roads, saying if all the rooms were full that would only be 46 cars for guests. There would be 20 to 25 employees onsite.
Moore said a traffic analysis based on the Institute of Traffic Engineers standards would require 358 total trips on a peak day such as Columbus Day.
“During normal operations, we believe there will be on average less than 225 trips per day to and from the site – 14 cars per hour average,” Moore wrote.
During the current meeting, Brian Benson challenged those numbers saying that the traffic count predictions the development used in an Act 250 permit application were different.
Benson also challenged the amount of business the resort would bring to town and the tax benefits.
“This story always tends to change,” Brian Benson said. “I think the Select Board should be understanding that a lot of different information is being submitted.”
When given a chance to answer Benson’s accusations, Moore said he stood by his letter.
Moore, in his letter to the board, also took issue with Mike Nawrath’s assertion that the road would only benefit the developer.
“This is categorically an untrue statement,” Moore wrote. “Not only will the town realize these significant improvements at no cost to the taxpayers and reduced maintenance cost of the two involved roads, but there are also far more benefits to the town that the proposed project will produce.”
The project was unanimously approved by the Development Review Board and is due to have a second Act 250 hearing Friday.