Coös Planners Accept Balsams Application
October 29th, 2015
By Robert Blechl
LANCASTER — In a step forward for the proposed redevelopment of The Balsams, Coos County planners accepted the application as complete and voted to recommend related zoning amendments that would also pave the way for other development in the county.
The county planning board met in Lancaster last week for a public hearing to review the project application as well as three proposed county zoning ordinance amendments. The planners unanimously approved them and sent them on to the Coos County Commission and Coos County Delegation for review.
At the Oct. 21 hearing was District One Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, who on Wednesday, “The governor and myself support the project wholeheartedly and want to see it advance. It’s a major part of North Country revitalization and economic development.”
Still outstanding are wetlands permits as well as conservation easements with the Society For the Protection of New Hampshire Forests that will need further discussion, he said.
Kenney said his office and the office of Gov. Maggie Hassan are there to help as the permitting process gets underway.
The first proposed zoning amendment reviewed at last week’s hearing seeks to create a new resort district in the area of the former Balsams Grand Resort and surrounding recreation areas and encourage further patterns of compatible development.
The second seeks to remove planned development as a type of subdistrict requiring county commission and delegation approval to instead create a process whereby the county planning board can issue a conditional use permit for a planned unit development (PUD).
The third amendment seeks to clarify existing wording and requirements, removing inconsistent language from the ordinance and update the county zoning ordinance relative to changes in state law.
According to the Oct. 21 meeting minutes, county planning board chairman John Scarinza said the PUD amendment is more in line with current county zoning practices than a planned development district, which was adopted 25 years ago and until recently had been proposed for The Balsams.
But PUD zoning requirements better accommodate development phases over a long period of time, as is being proposed for The Balsams, said Scarinza.
The PUD zoning amendment will not only accommodate The Balsams resort, but any other PUDs that might be developed in the county’s unincorporated places, said Balsams developer Ed Brisson.
The Oct. 21 hearing was an opportunity for the public to make suggestions or comments about the proposed amendments before the county planning board took its formal vote on whether or not to recommend the amendments to the county commission and county delegation.
Dixville Capital LLC, The Balsams redevelopment firm headed by nationally known ski resort developer Les Otten, of Maine, filed its PUD application Oct. 6.
Planners voted to accept the application as complete on the condition the proposed zoning amendments are adopted by the county delegation and that Dixville Capital supply any additional information the planning board seeks.
At the hearing, Scarinza thanked Kenney for his support of the project and asked that Kenney thank Hassan for her ongoing support. Scarinza said the county is also appreciative of all the help from the state fire marshal, who will be the project’s building inspector.
The next hearing on The Balsams has been scheduled for Nov. 11 in Colebrook.
The Balsams developers seek the zoning amendments to attract the investors needed to finance the estimated $143 million first phase of what they plan to make into a four-season destination resort that would be the economic driver of the region and employ more than 1,000 people in the coming decade.
In 2016, the development team is expected to announce a reopening date for the resort, once the largest employer in the region, that closed in 2011 and put some 300 area residents out of work.
First-phase redevelopment plans include upgrades to the Panorama Golf Course, renovations to the historic Dix, Hale and Hampshire houses, a conference center and construction of a lake village, Nordic spa and new hotel, a real estate pod with condominiums, a marketplace for the sale of locally grown foods, and significant expansion of the Wilderness Ski Area to more than 2,000 acres of skiable terrain.