Residents at a town meeting in Middlefield approved the sale of the former Powder Ridge ski resort to a developer that has promised to bring the resort back to its former glory.
Residents voted 259-28 in favor of the sale in a paper ballot vote that took about an hour to complete. The vote capped a mostly congenial public hearing and town meeting attended by more than 300 residents, most of whom were eager to move the hearing and town meeting along so they could approve the sale of Powder Ridge to Alpine Ridge LLC.
The public hearing on the proposal to sell Powder Ridge has begun, though residents continue to file into Memorial Middle School in Middlefield. So far about 200 people are here and First Selectman Jon Brayshaw has laid out the game plan for the meeting: There will be a public hearing first and then a town meeting where residents can vote.
Brayshaw has warned residents there will be a three-minute limit on comments and that residents should show “decorum” in what they say.
Town Attorney Ken Antin is giving a brief history of the property. Residents in 2007 voted overwhelmingly for the town to buy the former ski resort and that, Brayshaw said, gave the town the mandate to move ahead with the idea to buy and then sell the property to a developer.
The prospective buyer, Alpine Ridge LLC, is now making its pitch for the land.
*UPDATED* 7:35 p.m.
The principal for the group, Dennis Alplanalp, has told the audience, which now appears to number about 300, that he has a long history of running or working in ski resorts and that he and his partners have been carefully watching the Powder Ridge property since it was purchased by the town in 2007.
He promised the audience that the partners are committed to bringing skiing back to Powder Ridge and that they will restore the property to the premiere ski resort that it once was.
Antin, in an overview of the logistics of the sale, said the property transfer represents “more than just money changing hands. The town is getting…promises of certain things and those promises have value.”
The biggest promises, Antin said, is that Alpine Ridge will restore skiing to Powder Ridge and that doing so will bring with it the promise of local jobs and more revenue.
“Keep in mind the town has considered its mandate since it bought Powder Ridge,” Astin said. “Their mandate wasn’t to buy the property to sell it to make the greatest profit. The mandate wasn’t to make a sale that would garner the greatest tax revenues. The mandate was to restore skiing.”
"We will be a good neighbor"
Michael Waller, a member of the town’s Economic Development Commission, spoke on behalf of his agency and said it supports the sale.
“The Economic Development Commission of the town of Middlefield reviewed the proposed sale… From an economic development point of view … the Economic Development Commission supports the sale. The EDC believes that the economic benefit will be significant. Powder Ridge will be back on the tax rolls. In addition, it will generate real estate taxes, the most important thing to people here. The outdoor recrecreational activities will create seasonal jobs for a significant number of people, including high school and college students. This will help stimulate the local economy at a time when it's needed most. Powder Ridge is part of Middlefield’s cultural heritage.”
One resident questioned how Alpine can make the resort profitable when it would only operate between late December and late March.
Alplanalp acknowledged that the business's “cash cow,” will be the winter ski season, but said Alpine is planning enough physical improvements to the site, including signficant snow-making, to make the resort a huge draw for snow skiers, boarders and for snow tubing.
“Our goal is to create a winter recreational facility … that over a period of time will complement the ability of families to come and enjoy the recreational activities at Powder Ridge. I promise you the snow-making equipment we will have at Powder Ridge will be above anything you will ever see.
"We will be your neighbor and we will be a good neighbor."
One resident who said he supports the proposal received a loud round of applause when he sought to call the vote, a move that cuts off additional discussion. However, he was told he couldn’t do that until the town meeting, which follows the public hearing.
Another resident questioned why the decision wasn’t being made at a referendum, a route she said would be more fair to all residents. Town officials responded by saying a referendum wasn't needed and is costly.
'BRING POWDER RIDGE BACK HOME'
Some residents also questioned how much water the snowmaking operation would require and its potential impact on local water sources, including a nearby pond.
Alplanalp assured residents that the state-of-the-art snowmaking equipment Alpine intends to employ uses little water.
“We will make more snow with less water than has ever been obtained at Powder Ridge. It’s a science. We really, really know what we’re doing. The general skiing public in the region will come to Powder Ridge because of the product we’re going to produce and the key to that product is snow making.”
He also said the snow making guns are much quieter now.
“You would be impressed by the lack of noise that gun would make.”
He and his partners are hoping to reopen the ski resort by December of 2013.
“We will provide the best product that Powder Ridge has ever had and will need to survive.”
Like many of his statements, Alplanalp’s comment drew applause from the overwhelmingly supportive audience.
“With the sale of Powder Ridge to Alpine we will once again be able to bring our beloved Powder Ridge back to life,” local resident Lucy Petrella said. “Powder Ridge is woven into the fabric of Middlefield. Powder Ridge is part of what sets us apart and what makes us unique from other towns. Powder Ridge … is Middlefield. This is our time to bring Powder Ridge back home.”
Another resident again moved to call the vote on the proposal, a request that met with applause from an audience that was eager to vote on the plan.
That led town leaders to close the public hearing and open the town meeting.
*UPDATED* 8:46 pm
Despite a formal objection raised by resident Jim Malcolm to adjourn the town meeting to a referendum, the town meeting vote was formally called shortly after the meeting opened.
Malcolm said he felt the town was rushing the vote and said he believes there are many residents who want more time to review the plan.
“Time is not of the essence on this,” Malcolm said.
The residents then agreed to conduct the vote by paper ballots. The crowd groaned its disapproval when that vote was delayed after another resident rose to ask additional questions about the deal.
“I’ve only lived in town on Main Street for 35 years,” he admonished the impatient audience.
Malcolm took to the microphone after that to complain that he has been “intentionally been shut out” out of the discussions on Powder Ridge by town leaders who failed, he said, to hold enough meetings on the plan.
He also questioned whether the developers would agree to relinquish rights to the aquifer under Powder Ridge and complained that they have not included in their plans a proposal to remove a 35-year-old "quad" chair lift at Powder Ridge.
Malcolm also chastised the first selectman, accusing him of mishandling the Powder Ridge proposal and failing to hold additional meetings on it.
"It's a much bigger issue than what we're talking here. This whole process has been out of order."
Residents then voted overwhelmingly to move the vote, which cut off additional comments on the Powder Ridge plan.
They then stood in long lines to have their names checked off town rolls before they could receive the plain paper ballots that had just "Yes" and "No" written on them.