WESTMORE — At long last, the future of Forest, Parks and Recreation’s (FPR) property at the South End of Lake Willoughby is clear.
On April 28, the Westmore Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) approved the conditional use permit requested by FPR for improvements to the recreation area. This is the final permit needed to move forward on the project.
Lou Bushey, stewardship forester with FPR who has been managing the project and recreation area for many years, said Tuesday that he was still waiting on the official permit from the Westmore zoning administrator, but expects it soon.
“We’ve been holding off on finalizing construction drawings, not knowing what we were permitted to do,” he said. “We still have to work on those, but I’m hopeful we will have an RFP (request for proposals) out to local contractors by mid-June.”
The FPR project will dramatically expand parking — three new gravel parking lots will replace the one small current lot — and improve trails and facilities at the beautiful but often over-capacity area. The lack of infrastructure often causes cars to line Route 5A on summer weekends and has resulted in many informal and unsafe trails.
The ZBA held a public hearing on the permit on Dec. 16, continued it to Jan. 28, and then ended public comment after the third continuation of the hearing on March 25. According to ZBA Chair Louisa Dotoli, the board’s decision was made after several deliberative sessions to go over everything that was presented by the state and members of the public.
“I feel like the process worked,” she said on Tuesday. “We got all of the information out to the people who were interested.”
Five members of the zoning board voted in favor of the decision, with Beverly Decker voting against it and Ed York abstaining.
The approved permit, which can be found on Westmore’s town website, lists multiple conditions that FPR will have to consider or add to their project. These include: a gravel pedestrian pathway along, but separated from, Route 5A from the overflow lot on the far side of the Notch House to the boat launch area; extra signage to enforce no overnight parking or camping at the area; radar speed feedback signs; and that FPR continues to work with VTrans and the town to establish and enforce no parking zones.
“FPR is completely supportive of the permit conditions as imposed,” said Bushey. “However, some things are outside of our purview and some legwork will have to happen to make them a reality.”
Bushey and the town have been working with Jason Sevigny, district project manager with VTrans for the Westmore area, on issues related to parking and speed on Route 5A.
While the Westmore select board requested a no-parking zone be imposed near the recreation area earlier this year, Sevigny said Tuesday in an email that the request has been pulled in order to let VTrans reassess limits and needs.
“VTrans would ideally like to see an alternative parking area designated prior to not allowing parking on VT 5A,” wrote Sevigny, meaning that FPR’s to-be-constructed parking lots will likely need to come first.
Sevigny has also met with Eric Bogie and Michelle Laferriere, who own the White Caps Campground directly across from the South End property, regarding their parking concerns.
“I must say, I’m very impressed with VTrans and with Jason,” said Bogie on Tuesday. “He’s been more than willing to talk to us and listen to our concerns.”
The couple is worried about a no-parking zone for both sides of the road because they utilize roadside parking on their side of Route 5A for many reasons: for their campers, vendors and people who come to visit. Bogie and Laferriere have been working with the select board and others to make sure all (FPR, VTrans, the select board, and the zoning board) are aware of their needs.
Bogie said that he was really pleased with the ZBA’s decision.
“I’ve read through the permits and conditions and I really feel like FPR is getting what they need and we support that,” he said. “We’ve always seen their side as a neighbor and a business. I know it’s been a years-long process … I feel like the zoning board really listened to everybody.”
Bogie said the couple look forward to working with FPR and others in whatever way possible to make sure operations are safe and nice on both sides of the road.
The approved plan follows decades of discussion and over five years of serious planning, including many opportunities for public input.