Stowe Mountain Resort wants to pave over a parcel of meadowland near the top of Harlow Hill, the steepest part of Mountain Road, to create an overflow parking lot for the busiest days of the ski season.
Some abutting property owners, however, are worried about the impact on wildlife and their way of life.
The property proposed for the 286-space lot is located at 5400/5402 Mountain Road, almost directly across the street from the Stowe Mountain Resort Nordic Center. The resort owns the roughly two acres it wants to resurface and turn over to parking but doing so would bisect the current meadow and involve cutting down trees on its periphery.
“Resorts tend to think, ‘well, it’s our land and we’ll do what we want with it,’” abutting landowner Chris Robin said. “Or they have fluidity with the way they do it.”
Robin’s property, along with some others, is accessed by a driveway that cuts through the meadow. The parking lot proposal calls for rerouting that driveway closer to, and parallel with, Mountain Road.
Robin and Joshua Slen, who owns a property just up the road from the site, say the area has significant natural value, both for the meadow and the soil, but also as a wildlife corridor — the two point to numerous trees with bear claw marks not too far into the woods just lining the meadow.
“You can’t just put cars leaking oil all over prime ag soil,” Slen said.
Slen and Robin think because Vail and the resort bring so much business to town that the company gets to play by a different set of rules.
“Can you imagine how this would play differently if it wasn’t Vail, but it was some Joe Schmo that wants to put a 300-car parking lot in, not here, but say Stowe Hollow?” Slen wondered. “What’s the chance that would get fulfilled?”
The project is on the Stowe Development Review Board’s docket next Tuesday, Aug. 3. It’s a familiar project that has been tweaked numerous times over the years, pulled off the table and put back on.
The most recent appearance before the development review board was June 22, when a lawyer representing the abutting property owners, A.J. LaRosa, cross-examined people representing the resort, including vice president and general manager Bobby Murphy and longtime resort development liaison Rob Apple.
According to meeting minutes, Murphy said he didn’t know the specific number of parking spaces at the resort but estimated it between 2,000 and 3,000 spots. He said the resort has 900-1,000 employees and two-thirds of the workforce is working on peak days.
He said the number of people on the mountain on busy days is “in and around” 8,850 and added the resort does not cap skier access.
Jeff Wise, the resort’s communications manager, said in an email this week that additional parking for guests has “long been a shared goal” for both the town of Stowe and the resort.
“The proposed lot will provide an additional parking option for guests and help to reduce traffic during peak times,” Wise said. “The proposed lot is the best resort-owned location for guests who arrive after primary parking lots are full and who would otherwise need to search for parking down the mountain road or in town.”
Wise said the resort has partnered with the town and has “engaged with neighbors, community members and businesses” on the permit application all the way through the process.
Murphy said it has not yet been determined how the Harlow Hill overflow lot would be used, but it could be used for employee parking.
Murphy said that, on a slow day, 8-10 cars park at the Harlow Hill lot in the winter and upwards of 30 cars on busy days. He said the proposed parking area would serve as overflow parking for 15-20 percent of days during the ski season. The resort usually opens around Thanksgiving through mid-April, or about 150 days, give or take a few days on average. That means cars would be parked there 22-30 days a year, on average. That number seems high to Slen, and neither he nor Robin believe the resort even has the capacity for that much parking.
“That’s an awful big expanse of meadow to sit empty for 340 — that’s being generous — 350 days a year,” Slen said.
Robin said one of the existing resort-owned buildings slated to be taken down has historical significance, too. He said it was originally owned by George Washington Harlow, who lent his name to the steep hill that heads up from the Matterhorn bar to the resort. Robin added it was once used as ski lodging, and that’s where the legendary Austrian skier Sepp Ruschp stayed when he was first living in Stowe.
According to a Feb. 5 letter to the town zoning office from lawyers representing the resort, the site has been used for commercial purposes “for decades, and since before the Town of Stowe had zoning regulations.” The application calls for a large earthen berm to reduce the visibility of the parking lot, both from Route 108 and from adjacent residential properties.
The applicants say the parking lot is allowed for by the resort’s 2000 master plan because it is not one of the so-called 14 elements that would require an amendment to that comprehensive permit.
According to the Feb. 5 letter, the 14 elements listed in the master plan — many of which have already been undertaken and/or completed over the past two decades — include 371 residential units in 20 buildings; three retail buildings; a multi-story parking garage; amenities including a spa, performing arts center and a community pool; the Spruce Base Lodge; utility tank farm and telecommunications building; 18-hole golf course, club house and maintenance facility; expanded snowmaking reservoir; six ski lifts; three new parking lots, “none located on or near the project parcel;” two new Spruce ski trails; two mountain maintenance facilities; and expanded employee housing at the AIG dorm.
Slen and Robin say a multi-story parking garage, mentioned as one of the 14 elements, would be preferable to changing the year-round bucolic nature of a meadow when it’s seldom needed for overflow parking in the winter.