Parks rep outlines Lowell Lake plans for Derry board

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Londonderry Select Board was expecting a crowd Monday night, but only a handful of the regulars showed up.

Three rows of chairs were set up in the big room of the Twitchell Office Building expecting locals to turn out, as Ethan Phelps of Vermont’s Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation came before the board to outline the menu of plans for Lowell Lake and to answer the board’s questions.

Ethan Phelps of Vermont State Parks answers the board’s questions about the proposed changes at Lowell Lake. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Phelps told the board he wanted to clarify some issues and noted that the project is in a 60-day public comment period that began with the July 25 open house where the department presented the options for the park in a “storyboard” format.

The options, according to Phelps, include improving day use by expanding parking, improving traffic flow, adding composting toilets, making an accessible trail and constructing a permanent staff building. Also included in the options were “overnight use” either by constructing new cabins or  using existing ones.

Asking Phelps for clarification, board member George Mora noted that a letter to the editor of The Chester Telegraph characterized part of the plan as providing a “wedding/banquet/party facility” in addition to overnight cabins.

Prefacing his answer, Phelps said that nothing is set in stone and that the department could: do nothing at all; do portions of the plan; or fully implement it. As for the “Event Barn,” it would reuse an existing storage barn. He added that while it could seat 50 to 70 people, he described it as more of an enclosed picnic shelter, noting that there would be no kitchen and no running water.

“It would be very rustic,” said Phelps.

Phelps also said that the assertion that the department was exempt from regulations was incorrect. He noted that the projects do not meet the threshold of 10 acres of new disturbance that triggers an Act 250 review for a state project. But, according to Phelps, the department does do a number of the things that would be required by Act 250 even though they are not mandated. These include a bat survey and bat monitoring.

The storage shed at Lowell Lake could become an “event barn” under the proposed plan, but it would not have a kitchen or water according to Phelps

Board member Taylor Prouty asked if the department was “getting a feel” for how people are feeling about the plans through the comments. Phelps said they would not look at the results until the end of the comment period. He also noted that if the comments “keep rolling in” the department may extend the time for public input.

Responding to a question on who benefits from offering overnight accommodations, Phelps said that the public benefits. He also noted that there is a huge demand for cabins statewide, adding that the state has 55 cabins in a dozen state parks and during the summer season those are “at capacity.” There are capital funds to construct cabins in other parks and Phelps pointed to the potential financial impact on nearby communities from shopping and restaurant visits.

At Lowell Lake, the maximum number of cabins or cottages proposed is 11 with a maximum visitor capacity of four to six in each. Phelps noted that when the existing cabins were in use they could hold between 10 and 12 visitors each. The overnight cabins at Lowell Lake would represent a 20 percent increase in the total cabins available in the Vermont State Parks system.

The shop and rec building is one of those deemed “not salvageable” by parks authorities

Board members asked about late night partying and loud music as an issue, but Phelps said that there are currently three rangers at Lowell Lake and that would expand by one or two depending on what is done. He also noted that cabin guests tend to be quieter than other campers but that an overnight park requires a higher level of management.

Phelps also told the board that there isn’t generally much late night traffic in and out of the park and that guests are asked check in between 2 and 9 p.m.

Also listed on the agenda was the Londonderry Conservation Commission. It’s representatives were supposed to discuss its actions regarding Lowell Lake, but nobody from the commission appeared.  At the board’s July 15 meeting, the commission asked the board to “stand with” the commission on its opposition to portions of the state plan. But with only three of five select board members attending, that was put off until the next meeting and a bigger turnout.

Commission chair Irwin Kuperberg had said that he would be at Aug. 5 meeting but did not make it.

In other business

An informal notification of an un-permitted driveway on Winhall Hollow Road resulted in two agenda items. Under the first, Hiland and Malcolm Clough told the board that what was considered a “highway access” point was actually a farm gateway dating back to 1929 before the road level had been raised. They said they could understand why the town had considered it highway access and noted that a building on the site had been demolished and that gravel that hadbeen placed there was also removed and replaced with soil, which will be seeded.

South Londonderry resident Malcolm Clough tells the board that he feels that Zoning Adminstrator Shane O’Keefe needs to communicate more clearly

The board was satisfied with the steps taken, and then heard the Cloughs’ complaint about the way the situation had been handled by Zoning Administrator Shane O’Keefe, who is also the town administrator. Malcolm Clough felt aggrieved that the letter O’Keefe had sent him was unclear and too technical and that O’Keefe would not speak to him on a related matter.

O’Keefe and board chair Jim Ameden explained that the letter was informal, that it was signed by O’Keefe as town administrator not in his zoning capacity. After some discussion, Clough suggested that communications be simpler and clearer and Ameden apologized for the misunderstanding.

Planning Commission looks at town issues

Planning Commission member Dwight Johnson explains that the commission is looking at economic development issues as part of its work

Planning commission members Dwight Johnson and Sharon Crossman told the board that the commission is looking at a number of economic development issues as is goes forward with its work. These include traffic and safety issues, town appearance, economic challenges and opportunities and housing and employment  challenges.

Johnson and Crossman said the discussions were in an early stage, and that they would report back on progress.

Town looks into 1 percent local option tax

Mora told the board that a local business person had suggested looking at a 1 percent local option tax as a way of easing the burden of the municipal budget on property owners. Mora said she had done some loose calculations and found that 1 percent of the $17 million of spending taxed through sales, rooms and meals, alcohol and use taxes would amount to $170,000.

The board decided to authorize Mora and town staff to collect more information for discussion later on.

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  1. I think it should be left alone. All it is going to do is ruin it if they change it. I remember going to it when the dock was there and the building across the road, there was a bridge that you could walk across to the island.

  2. Doug Friant says:

    I liked the storyboard presentation the state did for the proposed Lowell Lake Project and believe, through talking with the presenters, that the park will be protected and maintained in a good way if the plan goes forward.

    Lowell Lake is a manmade preserve, which is part of the reason people love it. It is accessible. Like all manmade preserves it needs to be maintained. Allowing overnight use and raising revenue will bring in the money necessary to maintain the park and keep it beautiful.

  3. Irwin Kuperberg says:

    This article states that I was to appear at this meeting but I had notified the Select Board that I could not attend on this night due to a scheduling conflict.

  4. Randy Miles says:

    Lowell Lake Parks plan. I think the state Parks Department has a pretty good plan for Lowell Lake. I did not realize that there were so few opportunities in the state. I am not sure if one is even close to Lowell Lake. I see this as mindful and respectful for this site and the possibility to add life long memories to those who visit. I see this as a way of being able to enjoy and protect Lowell Lake. thanks

  5. Skip Woodruff says:

    I shop at many businesses in Londonderry. These places will no longer enjoy my patronage if the town decides to charge me another tax for supporting them. That’s it in a nutshell. Think before you act.