Traffic goes downhill from here

Catamount developers say volume has dwindled on Route 23

COPAKE—Roads and traffic were the main concerns on the minds of some who spoke when the Copake Planning Board opened a public hearing on the proposed $80-million Berkshire Mountain Club at Catamount Ski Area April 3.

But data in a recently updated analysis submitted as part of the developers’ plan shows a sharp decline in traffic volume on State Route 23 over the last 10 years.

The club, a four-season resort situated at the base of Catamount, is proposed in three phases over 10 years including a hotel and time-share with 153 residential units (256 beds).

 

Project applicants are appearing before the Planning Board for a major site plan review associated with the project and a minor subdivision of about 10 acres out of the total Catamount property on Catamount Road off Route 23. While the entire Catamount property, which covers several hundred acres, is partially in Copake and partially in Massachusetts, the parcel to be subdivided on which the resort will sit lies completely within Copake.

Berkshire Mountain Club applicants are also simultaneously appearing before the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals for special use permit.

A previous plan by a different developer for a 125-suite, 313-bed resort hotel in the same location, which secured approvals in 2006, was never built.

Current Project Developer Harry Freeman, project attorney Andrew Howard and consulting project engineer Pat Prendergast were at the April 3 meeting along with Catamount owner Rich Edwards.

Don Pulfer, an architect representing the Planning Board for the neighboring town of Egremont, MA, said Egremont wants success for Catamount and wants to support this project but needs a “clear assessment,” including more information about traffic. He said he had been trying for six weeks without success to see a site plan. Egremont wants to know what effect extra traffic generated by the resort will have on Egremont, he said.

According to an updated “summary of the relevant traffic issues” dated March 27, 2014, prepared by Creighton Manning Engineering, on file with the Copake Planning Board, “The latest available traffic count information indicates that the annual average daily traffic volume on Route 23 has decreased to 3,110 vehicles per day, a 25% decrease from 2004.”

Even the traffic impact study prepared in 2004 for the prior resort project proposed at Catamount found that “any impact to residents in Massachusetts was considered negligible.”

The new report says that based on the current project, neighbors would see an increase in traffic from 9 to 23 cars in the peak hour in the worst case scenario. A two-way traffic study showed an even steeper decline in afternoon traffic, down 48%.

Mr. Pulfer also questioned the wisdom of using Nicholson Road as an emergency access route to the site, noting it is “very narrow” in some places only “eight feet wide between those cliffs.” He said the road lacks signage and at some point crosses private property for which Catamount has no right of way.

According to a copy of an April 2 letter on file with the Copake Planning Board from the Egremont Board of Selectmen to project developer Mr. Freeman, Nicholson Road is a public way maintained by Egremont to the property line of Cindy and Gert Alper, owners of the Suiss Hutte, an inn and restaurant on Catamount Road next to Catamount.

The updated traffic summary also addresses emergency access noting that in 2004 one option was the construction of a new emergency access road that would connect with Catamount Road about 100 feet from the Route 23 intersection. The report notes that such a road “could not truly serve as an emergency access when its connection point only provided access back to Catamount Road.” The report suggests that Nicholson Road is a better emergency access option because it provides a secondary access to Route 23; it is an existing road that is maintained in the winter and is currently used by the Egremont Fire Department as its primary access to incidents at Catamount and the Suiss Hutte.

Andrew Gilchrist, an attorney representing the Suiss Hutte owners, presented recent photographs of Nicholson Road, which depicted the dirt road’s narrow and muddy nature. Mr. Gilchrist pointed out that under a prior agreement required by the Town of Copake in connection with the earlier project, applicants were to construct a new secondary emergency access road.

He also said his client’s property and business will be significantly adversely impacted and impaired by having heavy construction equipment and delivery vehicles traversing Catamount Road over a five to six-year build-out period. The Suiss Hutte is situated just 20 feet off the shoulder of Catamount Road.

Attorney Adam Schultz, representing Linda Breen, owner of Linden Valley B&B, also on Catamount Road, said the resort project, essentially a multiple family dwelling, is not an allowed use in the residential district in which it is proposed. He asked how the project could even be considered for a use that is not allowed, calling it a “cart before the horse situation.”

Copake resident and real estate agent Lindsay LeBrecht said the resort project has a lot of community support, noting it will provide 60 jobs and $400,000 in taxable revenue. “It will ripple out into our whole area,” she said.

Hillsdale resident Jeff Paige said he was concerned that increased traffic going into and coming out of Catamount Road would impact his twice daily trips to Great Barrington, MA.

Copake resident Stephen Hoppe said the project is “a great thing bringing development to the town” which will ultimately lighten the tax burden on town residents.

The public hearing on the resort project remains open.

The Planning Board meets next May 1.

To contact Diane Valden email .

 

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