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Planning Board approves Natural Retreats' 50-unit subdivision

April 10, 2013
CARROLL — A big infusion of investor dollars to build rental cottages and units for short-stay tourists is expected to flow soon into Coös County.

The Planning Board voted unanimously on Thursday night to approve a 50-unit subdivision — The Cottages at the Mount Washington Resort — that Natural Retreats-US, Inc., of Charlottesville, Va., plans to develop on 15.23 acres off Base Station Road and Fairway Drive. The motion included both detailed waivers and conditions.

A purchase and sales agreement is in place between Natural Retreats and property owners CPL BW Development TRS Corp., formerly CNL Income Bretton Woods, LLC.

If built, the project calls for an expenditure of nearly $2 million on private infrastructure alone: roads, paths, retention pond, culverts, and water and sewer connections.

This is the largest subdivision that the Planning Board has approved in five years since the 199-unit Dartmouth Brook subdivision, proposed by Celebration Associates of Hot Springs, Va., was approved. Due to the collapse of the housing market and recession, no units have been built there, however, and the project remains indefinitely on hold.

Natural Retreats, a U.K.-based company, primarily develops self-catering rental cottages in areas of natural beauty, including on the Snake River in Idaho and John O'Groats in Scotland.

In an effort to mitigate concerns raised by Fairway Village condominium owners, at least one private meeting took place between the developer and Natural Retreats' representatives, including its lawyer Dana Bisbee of Divine Millimet of Manchester and civil engineer Mike Norman of Horizons Engineering in Littleton.

As a result, at Thursday's meeting it first appeared that nearly all the trouble spots had been addressed to the satisfaction of Fairway Village property owners.

However, when Norman stated that that the state Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) had raised the grade around the historic stables by 18 inches to meet its Alteration of Terrain permit requirements, it was as though gasoline had been thrown on a nearly extinguished fire.

This change means that seven on-grade parking spaces cannot be located under the stable "ell," Norman explained. This, in turn, means that all the parking necessary to meet the town's standard of two parking spaces per unit, plus extra spaces as requested by Planning Board members and Fairway Village owners, would potentially add up to 28 cars parked on the Village side of the stables' development. Half would be paved spaces, and half grass pavers, Norman pointed out. The previous plan, modified in a negotiating session, had been for seven spaces to be located beneath the ell and 21 outside.

Once converted to rental units, the two-story historic stables and ell are expected to accommodate between 10 to 13 units: up to eight studio units in the ell in which up to four people could stay in each; and five suites in the renovated front of the stables, each built to accommodate four to six guests.

The precise arrangement will have to come back before the Board under its site plan review process, Norman noted.

After much discussion, he agreed to find other locations for seven extra parking spaces.

A town ordinance requires that 100 parking spaces be available. In response to concerns, however, the developer agreed to voluntarily add 32 more.

Planning Board member Erik Bergum who pointed out that he is the only Board member who lives in the Bretton Woods section of town said that the fall-out from this 18-inch elevation change is a "step backwards," destroying good will

Fairway Village property owner Mary-Pat Gibson said she would find it hard to continue to endorse the project since more cars parked outside would create more noise, harming the peace and quiet that Fairway Village owners seek when they invest in their properties.

Norman said that "a robust landscaping" plan was being developed, featuring both evergreens and hardwoods in buffers located on both sides of Fairway Road.

In the end, the Board approved the project subject to a number of conditions, including a signoff from the state Division of Historic Resources and no more than 21 parking spaces near the stables, including seven spaces to be relocated subject to third-party review by Provan and Lorber engineering firm.

Another motion approving the reallocation of the number of units as outlined in Exhibit E under the Bretton Woods Concept Plan passed unanimously but with both Bergum and just-sworn-in Michael "Mike" Hogan abstaining. The 50 units are to be taken from the Stone Hill development and reallocated to The Cottages.

Town counsel Bernie Waugh sent notice in response to a Board inquiry that he "could see no fundamental legal reason why the Board could not approve the reallocation of units as requested by Natural Retreats," assuming all standards in the town's regulations were met or properly waived.

Earlier in the meeting, Bergum had said that he was "a little bit concerned" about property owners' ability to "continually" move numbers of units around, even though it is consistent with the past Board action. "It's a moving target," Bergum complained.

He noted, however, that his concern did not derive from any concerns about CNL which, Bergum said, has been a "good partner and a good steward." He added, "I have very positive feelings about them, but nothing is forever — developers come and go." Existing homeowners would like to be able to count on their investment; and he said he thought that that is not an unreasonable expectation, from the perspective of both property owners and the town. Developers should not have a "blank check," Bergum said.

Acting chairman Dr. Evan Karpf pointed out that, as he understands it, the Concept Plan must be renegotiated in 2014.

Bisbee reminded the Board that he does not represent CNL.

Earlier in the meeting, the Board elected two new officers: Donna Foster as chairman, and Richard Nelson, vice chairman. Nelson explained that he would be uncomfortable chairing that night's meeting since he was not on hand at prior Natural Retreats' presentations.

Karpf asked for a moment of silence in memory of former chairman John Birknes, formerly town counsel in New Bedford, Mass., who died recently.

Bergum noted that the final 90-page draft of the Ammonoosuc River Corridor Management Plan, plus appendices, is available online at www.nccouncil.org and also on a CD. He characterized it as a strong report and encouraged all Board members to read it.

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