Rocky River Lodge

Rocky River Lodge on Mountain Road, at the Luce Hill intersection, was once a church. The Stowe Development Review Board blocked its demolition because of its historic significance.

The Rocky River Lodge will remain standing, even as another historic building faces demolition.

The Stowe Development Review Board has ruled that Rocky River Lodge, at the intersection of Mountain and Luce Hill roads, must remain standing.

“The board encourages the applicant to integrate the historic building into future land development and site design plans in a manner which preserves Stowe’s historic settlement pattern and honors Stowe’s rich and unique history,” reads the decision issued by the board March 17.

In October, Mila Lonetto applied for a demolition permit, arguing that “the structure is determined to be a deterrent to a major improvement that will be a clear and substantial benefit to the community.”

While it served as a ski lodge for decades, the original building — known as the West Branch Meeting House — was constructed in 1840. Between 1949 and 1952, the building was altered significantly to create the Rocky River Lodge.

The Vermont Historical Sites Survey states that the building “is unique in this respect, since this is the only church renovated as a ski lodge in this survey.”

However, structural engineer John Patrick Higgens says the building needs a lot of work, as “the existing structure cannot meet the current structural design live loads, energy and building codes required for modern buildings without incurring substantial costs to bring it up to the current building codes.”

Lonetto argued that, given the building’s location, it didn’t make sense to invest a lot of money in it.

When reviewing possible improvements to Mountain Road, the Stowe Select Board favored adding a turning lane and traffic signal at the intersection with Luce Hill Road.

“If advanced, the Rocky River Lodge in its current location is likely to encroach within the project limits,” wrote Harry Shepard, Stowe’s public works director and town engineer.

“If the building remains in its current location,” Lonetto said, “I will be unable to put any investment into this building, knowing that it stands in the way of a future project at the intersection, so it will remain in this unrentable state of blight.”

Lonetto also offered an assessment from Devin Coleman, Vermont’s architectural historian, stating the building “no longer retains the integrity of design, materials, workmanship, feeling or association and is not eligible for listing in the State Register.”

In its ruling, the development review board said the building’s location makes it worth preserving, regardless of its condition.

“Although the building has notably lost its integrity of materials and design, the overall location, placement and building form remain intact,” the board stated. “The building’s prominent location at the intersection of Luce Hill and Mountain roads is a significant character-defining element of this historic crossroads area and the greater Mountain Road village district.”

The board also noted that the possible changes at Mountain and Luce Hill roads is “not currently planned, funded or proposed at this time and it is not visibly apparent from the materials provided that the building’s location would prevent the recommended improvements.”

Other projects

The decision came a month after demolition of the Gables Inn, also on Mountain Road. In a decision issued in July 2019, the development review board concluded that “the condition of the building has been compromised and deteriorated to such a degree that rehabilitation and use of the building is not feasible due to structural and building code issues.”

The decision also came the same day the board gave the go-ahead to demolish another historic building, located at 57 Depot St.

Most recently, the building was home to the Depot Street Malt Shop, a 1950s-themed eatery that closed its doors in April 2019.

John Steel, who bought the property in April, wanted to demolish the building and replace it with another three-story structure, with retail space on the first floor and three apartments upstairs.

“Discovered during design that the building has deteriorated to such an extent that renovations are not practicable,” Steel wrote in his permit application. “Although the Malt Shop has a lot of character, its historic value is limited.”

The town’s Historic Preservation Commission, which holds no statutory authority but advises the development review board, agreed with Steel and recommended the demolition permit be approved.

The board agreed, and directed zoning administrator Sarah McShane to prepare a decision in support of demolition.

While Steel has approval to demolish the existing building, he will need a permit to build a new 3,423-square-foot structure, with 960 square feet of retail space, two one-bedroom apartments and one two-bedroom apartment.

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