A handful of Middlefield residents made it clear Monday night that they're not ready to sell Powder Ridge.
The residents, many of whom currently serve as elected or appointed officials in town, were critical of First Selectman Jon Brayshaw for what they perceived as his "secret" handling of a deal between the town and Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park owner Sean Hayes.
"We have been trying for months on the [Economic Development Commission] to get some financial information on the proposal to purchase to Powder Ridge," said EDC member Seb Aresco. "We haven't seen any real business plan with details."
Aresco's comments came at the start of the public comment portion of the June 4 Board of Selectmen meeting. Aresco said he was both disappointed and embarrassed that more information hadn't been made public.
"We're operating in the dark and you would expect this kind of behavior in some kind of foreign country, perhaps like China where the public isn't allowed to gather information," he said.
Barbara Jean DiMauro said the town should hold a referendum when deciding whether to sell Powder Ridge to Hayes, who has agreed to buy all but 20 acres of the property for $700,000 and invest at least another $2 million to turn the ski area into a winter sports park.
"I think it's too important a deal to just have a few people vote so I would like to see it go to referendum," DiMauro said.
Town treasurer Ellen Waff began her comments by noting that selectmen had held between 50-60 meetings in executive session to deal with Powder Ridge. Waff also said she had recently signed a check for $3,000 to pay for a forensic audit on Hayes' finances and felt the information should be made public as soon as the town received it.
"You're not a private company and you can not keep these things private," she said.
Brayshaw later said he planned to meet this week with the firm conducting the financial audit. He told the crowd the information would be available when completed.
A testy exchange between DiMauro and selectman Edward Bailey came after Bailey attempted to make a comment following a question about whether the town could lease the property.
"This is a public comment, should you be commenting," DiMauro asked.
"Well the question was asked," Bailey responded. "It's a Board of Selectman meeting I think I can say whatever I want."
The response prompted several members of the audience, including DiMauro, to call Bailey "angry."
"I'm not angry. I'll keep my comments to myself," Bailey said.
Bailey did take an opportunity to provide some clarification when residents Jim Brown and Susan Heuberger questioned how many homes could be built on the 246 acres.
"Currently, you can build seven houses on the property," Bailey said, indicating that Brownstone has agreed to limit the number to four. Any homes built on the property would be subject to approval of the town's Planning and Zoning Commission and restricted to members of the business.
EDC member Cheryl Pizzo, who called Powder Ridge a "gem," said the current proposal "seemed to be one of the worst negotiated deals in Middlefield."
"This is a very important decision for the community and I feel that you should tap into every resource you have and not do this behind closed doors," she said.
Pizzo raised several concerns, including whether the town would be responsible for paying back a $500,000 loan from the Department of Economic and Community Development if Brownstone were unsuccessful.
The money, which must be spent on infrastructure improvements on the property, would not be dispensed until Brownstone restored downhill skiing, Brayshaw told Pizzo.
"The town will never be in jeopardy for the $500,000," he said.
While Board of Finance chairman Lucy Petrella urged Brayshaw to involve the board in negotiations, selectman Dave Burgess addressed what he called frustration mounting over Hayes' decision not to share his business plan.
"I think what the problem is, is that Mr. Hayes doesn't want to share it with the public. I tell this to the public and they get very upset," Burgess said.
"I feel like an idiot when residents ask me about the business plan. I have to say I’m not going to see it, only the CPA is."
Before the public comment period had ended, Brown asked Brayshaw directly about whether he had anything personally to gain from the deal (See video).
“People in Middlefield thrive on gossip,” Brayshaw responded.
Middlefield resident Laura Williams spent several minutes addressing her own personal concerns (see video).
"We have to get behind the company and do whatever we can to make them successful. By them being successful, we will be successful," Brayshaw said.