Created on Thursday, 06 September 2007 07:47
Last Updated on Thursday, 06 September 2007 07:47
By Erin Post
Whether a new subdivision proposal -- one that comes as the result of
court-ordered mediation -- provides enough protection for bear and deer
habitat on a parcel off Slide Brook Road in Fayston dominated
discussions during a hearing last week.
Landowner Bob Crean presented to the development review board (DRB)
August 29 a plan for a five-lot subdivision, after meeting with town
representatives and a mediator as required by Vermont Environmental
Court. According to court documents, the parties reached a settlement
May 16. Crean's appeal of a previous subdivision denial is on hold
while the DRB considers the new proposal.
If the new application for the 16.5-acre parcel is denied, Crean may reactivate his appeal.
The hearing August 29 drew about 20 residents to the municipal
building; several requested interested party status to take part in the
process. Thirty-one residents petitioned the board to participate as a
group called "Friends of Slide Brook Basin."
The town denied Crean's previous application in part because of "significant negative impacts on critical bear habitat."
The current proposal includes a roughly eight-acre lot to be
permanently protected from development. The mediation settlement also
stipulates 100-foot buffers for unnamed brooks and other restrictions
involving barbecues, fruit trees and motorized recreation vehicles.
DEER HABITAT IMPORTANT
Much of the debate at Wednesday's hearing hinged on whether the new proposal improves protections for wildlife habitat.
Jeff Parsons, a wildlife biologist and ecologist with Arrowwood
Environmental, answered questions regarding an assessment he completed
for the town.
Parsons said he observed two beech tree habitats with enough signs of
bear use to be considered significant: The first stand is contiguous
with the Slide Brook Basin. The second is not connected to the larger
basin, and shows a "lower frequency of active bear use," including
fewer signs of bears climbing the trees in the past two to five years.
Although the state recommends a one-quarter of a mile buffer between
development and "critical" bear habitat, Parsons said he doubted
whether the state would apply the quarter-mile buffer for the second
In response to questions from DRB member Margaret Torizzo regarding the
use of the term "critical" to describe both stands, Parsons cited the
character of the land surrounding the second habitat as well as the
fewer signs of current bear use as reasons the buffer may be lessened
for that particular beech stand.
The current plan shows home within 700 to 800 feet of the second beech
stand, Parsons said. If the one-quarter-mile buffer were applied to
that stand, nearly the entire parcel would fall within it.
For the first, more critical beech stand, one building lot "appears to
be very close to the one-quarter-mile buffer," Parsons said. The new
subdivision plan eliminates a building lot that was closer to the first
Another concern for him, Parsons said, was deer wintering grounds. He
said he observed signs of significant use and suggested the town
require the habitat be mapped by the applicant.
"Deer are utterly dependent on wintering areas," he said.
WILDLIFE CORRIDOR HARD TO PROVE
Parsons told the board that there is a "strongly suspected bear
corridor" through the area, and has been for 15 to 20 years. Proving
that it exists, however, is difficult: Mapping a corridor is costly and
labor intensive, Parsons said, and sometimes involves radio tagging
bears or setting up fencing.
Fayston DRB member Chuck Martel noted that a report from a state
wildlife biologist, submitted for Crean's previous application, also
cited the probable existence of a travel corridor between the Slide
Brook Basin and points east, including Camel's Hump State Forest.
But the applicant, Bob Crean, presented evidence that seemed to contradict those observations and reports.
Crean cited text from the Act 250 decision issued for Sugarbush's
Intertie Lift regarding bear travel through the area. Experts agreed
that bear access is from the "west over the spine of the Green
Mountains," Crean said, quoting from the decision. He emphasized the
lack of proof in regard to a travel corridor.
Martel suggested board members review the 1995 decision in its entirety
as the subdivision hearing process moves forward. The Intertie Lift
connects Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen and passes over the Slide Brook
CITIZENS REACT TO PROPOSAL
A representative for Sugarbush told the board that ski area officials
will be following the Crean application closely. With property
bordering the proposed subdivision, Jason Lisai, Sugarbush's
vice-president of planning and development, said the resort wants to
make sure its interests are protected.
"At this point we are somewhat satisfied with Mr. Crean's proposal," Lisai said.
Neighboring landowner Jean Towns also said the new proposal addresses
most of her concerns, including the installation of underground power
lines, and the granting of an easement to the town for an existing
trail on the west side of the property. She suggested limiting parking
to discourage additional traffic into Slide Brook Basin.
Rick Levey, representing the citizens' group Friends of Slide Brook
Basin, urged the board to consider the wider implications of any
development in the area.
He cited the town's decision on the first subdivision application,
noting that the state characterized the habitat in the neighboring
Slide Brook Basin as crucial to the survival of black bears. The
leader of the state's black bear management team called the tree use in
Slide Brook Basin "phenomenal" and the frequency of use "exceptional,"
according to the town's notice of decision.
"All the adjectives that just go through the roof are used to describe
this," Levey said, arguing for a broader look at why development may
not be appropriate.
"As the town of Fayston I think it's our duty to protect this," he said.
The DRB continued the hearing to October 16. The board requested that
the applicant map the deeryard as well as delineate buffers for the
beech habitats on the parcel. DRB members also discussed contacting the
state for an opinion regarding what buffers they believe would be
adequate for the two beech habitats.