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Francestown

Timeline unclear for lights decision

ZBA to hire independent consultant

FRANCESTOWN — With an independent consultant still required to review lighting information, a decision at Wednesday’s Zoning Board meeting on Crotched Mountain’s variance application for 62 light fixtures set at an angle seems unlikely.

At the conclusion of the ZBA’s packed meeting Sept. 12, the board asked the lighting engineer working for Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride, Vic Reno, to collect specific lighting information, including the current angle of lighting fixtures and their the degree of deviation from the ordinance, which is to be reviewed by an independent consultant hired by the ZBA. However, in an interview with ZBA Chair Silas Little on Monday, he said the board has not yet chosen an independent consultant to review light information.

At the Sept. 12 meeting, the board said it would bring in an independent consultant but no timeline for the review was set. Reno told the board Sept. 12 that he would have the information ready by the board’s next meeting on Sept. 25. Little said the consultant will do a better job reviewing the light information with time to evaluate it, rather than on the fly at Wednesday’s meeting.

Little said the board doesn’t plan to find an independent consultant until they have all the information from Crotched that the board requested at the first variance meeting on Aug. 8. He said he doesn’t really know the timeline for this application or how long it will take to make a decision. “If they provided the information when we asked, we would be further along,” Little said.

Normally, the ZBA meets once a month, but as Little said Monday now the board has another meeting scheduled 13 days following the last meeting.

Pat Terry, the general manager for Crotched, said in an interview Monday that Reno gathered all the information the ZBA requested and is ready to present the findings. Terry said the board asked them to find out the current angles the lights are positioned at and their deviation from the lighting ordinance.

Because every variance application is different, Little said he doesn’t know everything Crotched needs to supply the board for the variance to be granted. He said he couldn’t say what information they have yet to provide because the ZBA does not know what will be provided to the board this Wednesday, so more information could still be required of Crotched.

“The applicant has the burden to persuade the board,” Little said. “It’s up to the applicant to provide the information needed to make a decision.”

The situation at hand revolves around Francestown’s ordinance which says outdoor lighting may not emit light above a horizontal plane established by the light fixture in question. The ZBA is aware of the criteria required for a variance from the lighting ordinance, however, it is still uncertain how to gauge Crotched’s light emission because reflection from the snow is inevitable and representatives of Crotches have stated at previous meetings that they are trying to meet national lighting requirements. But the ZBA has different standards to follow. Several people at the Sept. 12 meeting suggested a compromise may be possible.

When asked if Crotched could adjust or fix the lights prior to the ski season opening the first week in December, if the ZBA’s requests it, Terry said he couldn’t comment because he doesn’t know how much work the request would include. “I won’t know what the town is looking for [until Sept. 25],” Terry added.

He also said skiers are already purchasing season passes to the mountain. “We’re moving forward thinking it will pass,” Terry said, referring to the variance application. “I can’t not sell passes, it’s how we function.”

These season passes ranging in cost from $379 for a junior pass, $449 for an adult pass and $1,499 for a family pass all contribute to the taxes Crotched pays to the town of Bennington. According to Bennington Tax Collector Kristie LaPlante, in 2012 Crotched was the third highest taxpayer to the town of Bennington. The mountain paid a total of $51,026 in taxes that year, which is a combination of taxes paid for all six buildings owned by the mountain. The number one highest taxpayer to the town in 2012 was the Monadnock Paper Mills, which paid $204,462, although this tax total includes properties owned by the mills that are currently in use, but are not specific to the mills’ functions. The second highest taxpayer is the Public Service of New Hampshire in Bennington. LaPlante said Crotched is always on time with its tax payments.

Although Crotched makes a large contribution to Bennington’s tax base, it doesn’t even make the list of the top 25 tax contributors in the town of Francestown, according to tax collector Elaine McClary. McClary said in an interview Monday that Crotched paid $12,923 in 2012 to the town on 210.5 acres.

Lindsey Arceci can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232, or larceci@ledgertranscript.com.

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