Hotel proposed for 1,000 feet below Mount Washington summit goes before Coos County planners this week

Union leader Correspondent
February 26. 2018 2:17PM
The Cog Railway's Base Station is shown in December. Prompted by the Cog Railway's proposal to build a hotel about 1,000 feet from the summit, the Coos County Planning Board this week will consider what, if any, type of development can be built on Mount Washington. (John Koziol/Correspondent/FILE)

LANCASTER — Prompted by the Cog Railway’s proposal to build a hotel about 1,000 feet from the summit, the Coos County Planning Board this week will consider what, if any, type of development can be built on Mount Washington.

The planning board is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the North Country Resource Center and plans to take up the request of the Coos County Commission for a ruling on the legality of what the Cog Railway calls a “trail” that it built last summer along its tracks but that critics say is an unpermitted road.

Immediately thereafter the board will review the PD8 Unusual Areas section of the zoning ordinance for unincorporated places.

The purpose of the section is to “protect areas of significant natural, recreational, historic, scientific or aesthetic value which are susceptible to significant degradation by man’s activities and for which protection cannot adequately be accomplished by inclusion in any of the other Districts.”

Wayne Presby, the owner of the Cog Railway, has said that the zoning ordinance as well as the Coos County Master Plan allows for building structures on Mount Washington, but his opinion has been hotly contested.

In February 2017, in a letter to the Coos County Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Audubon Society of New Hampshire, Conservation Law Foundation, Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire, objected to the Cog’s Skyline Lodge proposal, saying it threatens the fragile alpine zone on Mount Washington.

Later last year, a group known as Keep the Whites Wild was formed, which also opposes the Cog hotel. In December, Keep the Whites Wild filed a complaint with the Coos County Commission alleging that the Cog Railway had built an unpermitted “road” along its tracks. The commission referred the matter to the planning board.

Presby, during an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader last week, said that while the proposed 35-room Skyline Lodge will not be built in time for the Cog’s 150th anniversary in 2019, the project was still moving forward.

Once he has gathered the necessary supporting documentation for the lodge, Presby said he will submit a formal site plan application to the planning board. Presby, again, also denied that the Cog Railway, which owns a 99-foot wide strip of land from the top of Mount Washington down to its base, has built a “road,” saying it is actually a multi-use ATV trail and as such is a permitted use.

Chris Magness, president of Keep the Whites Wild, disagreed with Presby in a Feb. 22 email, noting that the so-called trail can accommodate snowcats, “which are many times larger than ATVs and even larger than most passenger vehicles.”

State law, Magness said, does not consider a snowcat to be either an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) nor an off-highway recreational vehicle (OHRV), and “For these reasons, the Cog Railway was required — prior to construction — to apply to the Coos County Planning Board for a permit to construct the road in areas of steep slopes and high elevations, if such a permit could even have been issued.”

The Cog Railway, said Magness, built the road without “seeking any permits from either the Planning Board or the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.”

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