Crotched: Light ordinance doesn’t apply
Ski resort applying to ZBA for variance to Francestown regulations
Francestown Zoning Board Vice Chair Charlie Pyle said Thursday's meeting received the biggest turnout from the public that he has seen in his fifteen years of service for the town. More than half the people in attendance had to stand during the two and a half hour long meeting. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
The Francestown Zoning Board of Adjustment received a giant public turnout for a meeting regarding Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride's application for a variance from the board's outdoor lighting ordinance, Wednesday. The meeting went past 10 p.m. with public comments in favor of both sides. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Francestown Zoning Board member Sue Jonas speaks with lighting engineer, Vic Reno, about the lights in the new expansion at Crotched Mountain, while other board members look on. The meeting lasted two and a half hours with more than half of the public audience standing for the meeting's duration. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
FRANCESTOWN — Residents facing Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride continue to be adamantly opposed to the new light towers that went up after last year’s expansion. Resort officials are resolute in their stance that the lighting complies with industry standards and that capping the lights will make night skiing more dangerous. And skiing enthusiasts are rallying around the issue, concerned that an interpretation of a Francestown lighting ordinance could compromise their skiing season, and perhaps even the viability of the region’s lone ski resort.
Now it’s up to the Francestown Zoning Board to determine the next step. Residents from near and far packed the ZBA chambers Thursday night for a public hearing that touched on the issue from technical, economic and emotional perspectives.
Vice Chair of the ZBA Charlie Pyle said Wednesday’s meeting, at which Crotched Mountain requested a variance to the lighting ordinance, was the biggest public turnout he’s seen in his 15 years of service. The meeting didn’t conclude until after 10 p.m. and public discussion will continue on Sept. 25 to decide whether Crotched can keep its lighting system as is for the coming season.
Crotched Mountain General Manager Pat Terry said during Wednesday’s meeting that the company is applying for a variance because the mountain does not comply with the town’s outdoor lighting ordinance, Article 3.15. Yet, he said, the lights meet the minimum requirement for the national standard for ski area lighting, established by the Illuminating Engineering Society for Northern America. According to Terry, the only lights that are subject to the outdoor lighting ordinance include the 23 light towers, with 62 individual light fixtures, that were part of the recent 2012 expansion at Crotched to open up a new summit and ski lift.
When Terry went to the Planning Board for expansion approval last year, the board advised him to put shields on all the new lights in order to be in compliance with the outdoor lighting ordinance. According to Planning Board minutes from the Nov. 27, 2012 meeting, Terry said the suggested shields reduce the lighting too much and would require more lights to be installed in order for the hill to be safe to ski on. Discussion about shielding continued at Planning Board meetings on Dec. 4, 2012, Jan. 15 and Feb. 19.
According to the minutes of the Feb. 19 Planning Board meeting, Planning Board Chair Linda Kundhardt said she sent emails to Terry in December, January and February, and in those emails she said she would wait until Feb. 26 for a reply before the board decides its next step. At the Feb. 26 meeting, the Planning Board agreed to hold a compliance hearing with Crotched Mountain on April 16. At that meeting, Terry told the board that the town ordinance is not compatible with slope lighting requirements. The Planning Board suggested that Crotched Mountain apply for a variance with the Zoning Board.
In an interview on Monday, Terry said light shields are relatively inexpensive and could be installed on the lights before the mountain opens the first weekend in December. He said, however, that if they are required to put shields on the light fixtures, then the mountain would in turn be required to install more lights to compensate for the shielded light. Terry said that process could be completed by the start of the ski season.
The Francestown lighting ordinance states that the lit areas in question must not cause excessive illumination or glare to neighboring properties or streets. But Terry said it is impossible for the mountain’s lights to not cause glare because the snow reflects the light throughout the ski season, and the lights are mounted on varying elevations on the different slopes.
At the meeting Wednesday, Terry presented the Zoning Board with a letter from the mountain’s insurance company that said their insurer would be uncomfortable with Crotched attaching any type of apparatus to the lights because of potential liability issues in shielding the lights.
Registered lighting engineer Vic Reno of Reno Engineering and Light Design was also at Wednesday’s meeting. Reno, who addressed the Zoning Board on Crotched Mountain’s behalf, explained the technicalities behind why the ordinance doesn’t apply to ski area lighting.
“In relative low light levels, uniformity is everything,” Reno said. “That’s why the Illuminating Engineering Society has recommendations for how to light a ski area. Primary in those recommendations is uniformity. So that you don’t have dark spots and light spots, because your eye will adjust to the light spots and you won’t see the dark spots.”
Reno said the ordinance addresses outdoor lighting pertaining to parking lots, roadways and flat sports arenas. But because of the varying elevations on the mountain and the ever-changing snow levels, the mountain is asking for a variance so that they can light the slopes and adjust the light fixtures as needed to ensure skier safety. “This is a special case and requires a special variance because the regulations do not address this type of sports lighting,” Reno said.
After these discussions, residents in favor of the variance application spoke, followed by those opposing the application.
Ron Bapiste of Francestown said that, although he is a skier, he isn’t necessarily for or against the variance. Bapiste said, “I’d be in favor of this variance even though every night during ski season — I live on [Route] 47 — I have light coming into my bedroom. I believe we can come to a real good compromise and I hope we can work this through.”
Larry Labor, who lives right at the base of the mountain in Bennington, said light from the mountain is intrusive. “I actually grew up in this town. The reason I stayed in town is because I liked the quality of life in this town,” he said. “When I bought my house, I knew the mountain was coming in. Now looking back, I should never have bought my house, because [at night] I can see like it’s clear as day and it’s almost like every night. I have my shades drawn all the time, I even have an air purifier running all the time to help with the music coming from the night skiing.”
Public comments were heard until about 10 p.m. ,at which time the board discussed what the next step would be. The board agreed that it would need more specific information regarding the light tower heights, the exact angles the light fixtures are set at currently and the range of angles the light fixtures could be set at, by the next Zoning Board meeting on Sept. 25. Reno agreed to provide this information for the board by the next meeting. The Zoning Board also decided to find an independent consultant to evaluate Reno’s information at the next meeting. Public discussion in support of either side will continue at the next meeting as well.