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Madison residents question proposed 100-home development with golf course


July 15, 2010
MADISON — A conceptual plan to build 100 seasonal homes and a private golf course on Forest Pines Road drew about 50 residents to last week's Planning Board meeting. Many of those residents worried about the project's impact on the area's water quality and wildlife.

High Acres Enterprises presented the concept to the Planning Board on July 7. The meeting room at Town Hall was packed with residents who came to hear the presentation, delivered by Jennifer McCourt, of McCourt Engineering, in Henniker.

"It's very conceptual," said McCourt of the 316-acre project. "The more input we get, the more of an educated design we can bring before you."

McCourt explained that the homes in the development would be seasonal and suggested they may only be open from around Memorial Day to Labor Day — terms would be set later. Originally, she proposed that the golf course would only be open to the development's residents. However, she seemed open to changing that rule when told that Madison's Planned Unit Development regulations may be more likely to allow a commercial golf course. McCourt said 100 homes was the maximum number that could be placed on the parcel given the geography. The golf course hasn't been professionally designed. Regulations require at least 25 percent of the land must be left in a natural state and McCourt said the development would leave closer to 40 percent natural but that includes wetlands.

Planning Board Chairman Marc Ohlson said the next step for the board will be to get clarification on how to interpret aspects of the town's zoning ordinances from their attorney, Laura Spector, of Mitchell and Bates, of Laconia.

"We'll do our homework, so if or when they come back in, we'll have answers," said Ohlson. Questions include how to account for the golf course in terms of the town's density requirements.

The proposal to make development seasonal, led to questions about who was going to be responsible for keeping people from living there year around. Resident Cathy Gregg found it difficult to believe that future residents of the development wouldn't want to live there in the winter given that it would be located near popular skiing destinations.

But what seemed to concern residents, and other stakeholders the most, was the fact that this project is proposed to be built on a ridgeline that feeds an aquifer that provides drinking water to residents and the water for wildlife habitat.

Fertilizer and pesticide runoff from the golf course could harm the wildlife in several ponds and Silver Lake, said Anne Filson who added the Silver Lake Association has been monitoring Silver Lake for the last 30 years.

"If there were more nitrogen and phosphorous coming in, this would make the critters, essentially the plankton of the lake, grow tremendously — eventually they die off, and their decomposition uses oxygen, so over time there would be dead zones in the lake," said Filson. "In time, Ossipee Lake would also be affected."

Planning Board member Karl Nordlund called Silver Lake one of the town's "biggest prizes" adding, "Once you pollute it you can't get it back."

Blair Folts, of Green Mountain Conservation Group, in Effingham, urged the town to get an outside environmental consultant to do an impact study because the development is sited on a ridgeline and the runoff would go right into the aquifer that supplies water to the vast majority of Madison residents. The aquifer supplies water to other communities as well because it flows all the way to Saco, Maine. Folts said pollution would spread quickly through Madison's gravelly soil to a group of water bodies called Chain of Ponds (Drew Pond, Mack Pond, Blue Pond, Cranbury Bog and Tyler Bog). The Chain of Ponds is considered to be a unique and sensitive wildlife habitat.

Foltz predicted that 100 homes would produce 45,000 gallons of effluent per day. Foltz didn't think standard septic systems could handle such a flow.

"This is the worst place for this project," said Folts.

The ridgelines would be lowered to make room for the development, McCourt told the audience and planning board members.

But not everyone was worried. Resident Fred Ham said he wasn't too concerned about the project because it "would never fly." There is a golf course next to the Saco River in Conway and another golf course in Ossipee with runoff into Ossipee Lake — and those aren't too polluted, said Ham.

Abutter Ken Jones was worried the development would lead to more traffic accidents because Forest Pine Road has some dangerous curves. Jones says he even sees motorists going off the road in the summer. Further, he said Moose, deer and bear call the area home.

But when asked about preserving a wildlife corridor, McCourt said she felt that the animals would be capable of getting across the golf course

Resident Shawn Bergeron said he didn't think the project would meet the state's fire codes as they pertain to such things as roads, fire protection, proximity of new construction to steep slope. Like Jones, Bergeron also worried about traffic safety — in particular sight distance issues with the main entrance and the emergency entrance. Currently, the neighborhood only has 55 homes — if the development were to be built, it would lead to a 350 percent increase of the number of trips on the roads.

Bergeron asked the board to consider making a regulation that requires developers to have more than one access in and out of their subdivisions because the only road connecting to the development would be Forest Pine Road, he said.

"In the event of an emergency, if we have any blockage on Forest Pines Road that whole subdivision is at risk," said Bergeron.

Planning Board member Jay Buckley had similar concerns. He said the developers should have the town's emergency chiefs look at their plans.

Attorney Bob Upton said the project would have an adverse impact on the Elaine Connors Center for Wildlife, which is once of the few places that does rehabilitation for wildlife such as moose and bobcat. The reason why the center is located in Madison is because of the proximity to those kinds of animals and the wilderness.

Other residents wondered what would happen if the development gets built but fails for economic reasons.

Planning board members said that wasn't their purview.

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