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Written By The Mountain Eagle on 4/5/24 | 4/5/24

By Michael Ryan

WINDHAM - It isnt what Hermans Hermits had in mind when they sang their hit song in the late 1960s but this story has to start somewhere.

People who are older than dirt might remember the Hermits singing theres a kind of hush all over the world,” meaning lovers falling in love.

A similar but less romantic silence has fallen over the town of Windham and whatever is unfolding at the Windham Mountain Club.

The ski center and its new majority ownership group, last summer, unveiled a housing and recreational Master Plan that sent shivers through the community and beyond.

It outlined the construction of 60 or so townhouses on land that, until then, had been used for visiting skier parking lots, leaving deep doubts and confusion about where those thousands of skiers would park.

A media rollout,” describing an out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new Era at WMC, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, putting an emphasis on $175,000 memberships and vastly reduced lift lines.

The way things were presented created uncertainty about who would pay $175 Gs to join the WMC and maybe buy the townhouses, whether they would go out or stay home once the skiing was done.

And it wasnt clear what would happen with the crowds of skiers who stood in those long lift lines and spent their tourist money at local hotels and restaurants. Would they be obliged to go elsewhere?

WMC president Chip Seamans offered reassurances it would all be good for local businesses - and therefore everybody - and people wanted to believe and embrace the Master Plan.

But worries lingered about initial WMC plans to add an onsite hotel, a mid-slope restaurant and a shooting range that would probably be heard from one end of Windham to the other.

Anyway, the WMC has to go through the local planning board for site plan review and permits on their project, the same as anybody else, which is why and where the kind of hush has emerged.

A big, important planning board meeting happened this past December 21, attended by Seamans along with engineers and attorneys working on the Master Plan, looking to move forward as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the planning board retained its own engineer and lawyer to assist in oversight and legalese, not an unusual circumstance.

There was a lot of discussion about what information the WMC needed to provide to the planning board and when they needed to provide it.

That all leads to a required State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) determination being made by the planning board, a decision holding potentially monumental obstacles and hurdles for the WMC.

In simplest terms, a Negative Declaration (Neg Dec) means the project can proceed relatively quickly, having no negative impacts on the community. 

On the other hand, a Positive Declaration means there could be significant impacts on the community in terms of groundwater, flooding, consistency with community plans, consistency with community character, etc.

There is a lot of stake in terms of time and money and it is safe to say that engineers and lawyers for the WMC and the planning board had very different views on what info needed to be provided and when.

Seamans, while noting that plans for the onsite hotel were on hold, said many ideas being announced by WMC to prospective buyers of the $175,000 memberships were not far along enough yet for review.”

He suggested the townhouse lands, shooting range and other everyday improvements being made onsite and in-house were separate” items.

The lawyer and engineer for the planning board were equally adamant that all Master Plan elements must be put on the table before proper SEQR decisions can be made or any ground-breaking occurs.

Kevin Young, the lawyer retained by the planning board said, SEQR doesnt apply to the mountain. It applies to the planning board and therefore the town of Windham.

The local planning board must determine what is or is not part of the Master Plan,” Young said.

We would need to know what is happening within the whole of the Master Plan for the public good,” Young said, not have it presented segmentally.

A lengthy memo was delivered by the planning board engineer, Delaware Engineering, to the planning board and Windham Mountain Club at that December 21 meeting.

The memo stated that the planning board is not in receipt of all information it may reasonably need to make the determination of [negative or positive environmental] significance.

We recommend that the planning board provide [Windham Mountain Club] time to provide said information, and consider issuing a determination of significance at your January 18 [2024] meeting,” the memo stated.

While no one was formally showing their cards, a preliminary SEQR report was also listed on the town website at that time, for public perusal.

Virtually every box was checked yes”… that the ski slope Master Plan would be having a significant impact in multiple ways that would necessitate extensive and expensive review.

A hush has fallen over things since the December 21 meeting. The hearsay is that private conversations are ongoing, trying to find middle ground before officially heading back to the planning board.

That is not uncommon either but finding common ground between selling $175,000 WMC memberships and filling town restaurants and hotels is nothing -for now - like the sound of lovers falling in love.

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