A group of Cambridge residents, led by neighbors, has launched a crusade against the potential Smugglers Notch RV Park planned for the Route 108 corridor with a flurry of letters and a petition.

The anti-RV group said it’s not strictly against development in general and has been purposeful about the rollout of its protest, careful not to drum up rancor on social media. After sending out letters to relevant parties, the group started a petition outlining its concerns around the recreational vehicle parking site, which has received 167 signatures toward a 200-signature goal as of press time.

The petition notes several concerns about the project, including degradation of Route 108 and its “scenic byway” status, various traffic issues, disruption and impact on local wildlife and the wetlands behind the site, RV traffic possibly obstructing the road through Smugglers Notch and a negative impact on nearby property values.

“I think the common bond among the group has always been either the project is going to directly impact us in some fashion based on where we live, or we just have general concerns about the project, that proposal and its use of that parcel for the purposes of a 60-unit RV park,” said Sam Lotto, who, along with a group of core members, has spearheaded the resistance.

Lotto, along with David Gottshall, Nancy Rock, Linda Kopper, Nancy Guyette and Peter Gold whose property abuts the potential RV park, and many other members of the group are long-standing Cambridge residents with a history of volunteerism. Lotto himself has served on the town’s economic development commission and served on the planning commission that wrote the 2018 town plan.

The group is purposefully attempting to keep things civil and make their complaints through the proper channels, after a Facebook post from a Cambridge resident ignited a panic when tentative plans for the RV park were presented to the Lamoille County Planning Commission last summer. Later, a joint meeting between the selectboard and town planning commission was held to provide a venue for residents’ concerns about the project.

After that August meeting, both the regional and town planning commissions, with support from the selectboard, wrote letters to the state approving of the RV park plan, stating that it fit with the Cambridge town plan.

Now the group awaits the RV park’s consideration under Act 250, the state review process many Vermont development projects must undergo. It has already sent a letter to the state outlining concerns similar to those presented in the petition and will likely appeal the project at every turn.

The anti-RVers also sent a letter directly to Bernie Kuntzelmann, whose Peregrines Landing LLC proposes to build the park, and who has a distinguished and respected history in Cambridge. The group requested an audience with Kuntzelmann but received no response.

Tom Wawrzeniak, a consultant with the Vermont Land Design group advising Kuntzelmann and helping shepherd the project to completion, believes the group’s myriad concerns are overblown, trumped up protests from riled-up neighbors mistaking a low-impact RV park for a trailer park. He bemoaned that the project had been the subject of misinformed derision on social media.

“Let the Act 250 process do its job,” he said. “That's why they’re there. They’re one of the strictest in the country. If we do our due diligence, then there shouldn’t be any argument. There shouldn’t be any concern.”

For and against

But the group has grievances, both specific and numerous.

Traffic is one concern. An RV was identified as one of the six vehicles that got stuck in Smugglers Notch and closed the road to traffic temporarily in 2021, and the group fears that planting a 60-unit RV park at its doorstep will only lead to more closures, despite posted signage warning certain vehicles to stay out of the road between Cambridge and Stowe.

The group is also worried about the safety of cyclists, the increased traffic of heavy vehicles in Jeffersonville and the general wear and tear on the highway.

“Parking, particularly in Jeffersonville, just for local residents is challenging at best. Now, if people don’t bring the come-alongs, our concern is RV traffic going down the hill and into Jeff,” said Lotto.

Though mockups of the potential RV park show the park will be partially hidden by trees, the group is also concerned about the development negatively affecting the character of the area.

John Pitrowski, a professional engineer working with Wawrzeniak to develop the project who has also done work for the nearby Smugglers’ Notch Resort, doesn’t think the RV park will have that much effect on traffic on the already busy Route 108.

“It’s a tourist area where a lot of those types of vehicles, a lot of that type of vacationing is occurring anyway,” Pitrowski said. “So, this would just be yet another place for folks to stay. That section of the highway is well built and suited for this type of traffic. It’s not enough to overburden it, the state highway was built to handle the traffic for the other properties and businesses, especially Smugglers’ Notch (Resort).”

The group fears the park’s potential effect on the wildlife and natural resources.

From his home along Route 108, Gottshall often walks a game trail that leads back into the watershed behind the parcel and keeps several cameras there, capturing images and identifying the variety of wildlife with the help of naturalists.

In a presentation he will send to the state, Gottshall outlined the many deer, bears, beaver, occasional moose and other creatures inhabiting the wetland. In a letter sent to the planning commission, Gottshall pointed to the town plan to argue why the RV park did not conform to it.

“The wildlife habitat will unequivocally be negatively impacted. I document and photograph extensively the wildlife in the abutting land owned by Peter Gold, which includes water drainage from the RV property and a woodland seep and beaver pond,” Gottshall wrote in the letter.

The consultants with Vermont Land Design have argued, however, that the RV park won’t greatly impact the watershed or the wildlife and that any other potential use of the space would impact it even more.

“There will be an impact on wildlife but, because it’s seasonal, I think the impact will be minimal,” Pitrowski said. “Certainly, a lot less than a residential neighborhood or a restaurant. There are rules and there’s limits to what you can do. You’re not having drinking or partying here; you’re staying overnight and you’re enjoying the area.”

The opposition group said it would prefer to see something more permanent, such as affordable housing or a place for up-and-coming entrepreneurs to get their businesses off the ground.

To a certain extent, the anti-RV protest is an exercise in how much control residents can exercise over the use of neighboring land that they don’t own.

“Someone owns a 24-acre piece of land, and they can’t do anything with it?” Wawrzeniak said. “You think there’s going to be a better impact if you put restaurants there or businesses or have a brewery there, which you have right down the street? It’s hard to understand how they feel that’s not going to have a negative impact. If they feel that, then they should have bought the property.”

Next steps

The Smugglers Notch RV Park is far from a done deal.

Vermont Land Design is preparing to apply for the proper permits, conducting testing and other analysis they’ll need to get through the Act 250 process.

Pitrowski said they plan to begin the process soon and will ideally be ready for construction season, but the number of applications for projects all over the state, protests from the anti-RV group and other factors will likely mean the approval process could take longer.

While the local opposition group found the planning commission and selectboard unreceptive to its concerns, they’ve looked to recruit the conservation commission as an ally in the fight against the project.

According to Lotto, commission member Sara Lourie planned to submit a letter at a Jan. 5 meeting outlining concerns about the project similar to its own and the commission will vote on whether to send the letter to the state environmental commission. (This meeting occurred after the News & Citizen went to press.)

The group plans to continue circulating its petition as well.

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