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Friday, July 18, 2014

More sparring expected after Sunapee land ruling

CONCORD – Nearly 20 years after a ski area operator signed a lease with the state for land adjacent to the Mount Sunapee Resort, the legal fight to expand the ski mountain will continue despite a recent court ruling that the lease includes state park land.

The Sunapee Difference, the company that operates the resort in the western part of the state, signed a lease in 1998, but sloppy drawings, incomplete memories of discussions and changing political sands over the years cast doubt on just exactly how much land was included in the lease. The company maintained that the boundary went all the way through the northwest corner of the Sunapee State Park, and last week, a judge agreed. ...

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CONCORD – Nearly 20 years after a ski area operator signed a lease with the state for land adjacent to the Mount Sunapee Resort, the legal fight to expand the ski mountain will continue despite a recent court ruling that the lease includes state park land.

The Sunapee Difference, the company that operates the resort in the western part of the state, signed a lease in 1998, but sloppy drawings, incomplete memories of discussions and changing political sands over the years cast doubt on just exactly how much land was included in the lease. The company maintained that the boundary went all the way through the northwest corner of the Sunapee State Park, and last week, a judge agreed.

Merrimack Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler ruled that state officials and Sunapee representatives had acknowledged the piece of land in the northwest corner of the park was part of the Sunapee leasehold. In his 11-page ruling, Smukler said that while the sides made a “mutual mistake” identifying the boundaries on maps, Sunapee had proved its case that it believed it was leasing the land up to the northwest border of the park.

Sunapee owns private land on the other side of that part of the park and if the lease stops short of the private land, it creates a buffer zone between land it leases and land it owns. The company says it wants to expand the ski mountain by adding a lift and four trails, but opponents of the expansion worry that the company will build condominiums on the private land and connect it to the ski mountain.

Tom Elliott, a spokesman for the Friends of Sunapee, said the main concern is not only about what would happen to the character of the mountain but the negative effects a condo project would have on the community and the precedent it would set if the state cedes over public land. The group was disappointed but undeterred by Smukler’s ruling.

“The people of New Hampshire really have to look hard at what it means to use a state resource to enable somebody else’s real estate development,” Elliott said.

“We could probably use Hampton Beach or one of the other beaches, or the Old Man (of the Mountain Historic) site to enable a lot of real estate development, but that’s not what they’re there for.”

The vice president and general manager of the ski area said there has never been a specific plan to develop condominiums but since it’s a possibility, it has to be addressed in its five-year Master Development Plan filed with the state. Jay Gamble said blocking the expansion plan would hurt the regional economy.

“We’ve done a lot of work but the part that we have not done is any condominium development planning. We’ve done a lot of due diligence to make sure Mount Sunapee would not be harmed,” he said. “It is not a key component of the plan as some of the opposition groups would like everybody to believe.”

Both sides acknowledge the fight is not over.

“The various groups who are opposed to the expansion are still here and still vocal,” Elliott said.

Richard Head, the associate attorney general defending the state, said the decision to appeal has not been made yet.

“Relative to the boundary, obviously that was not the position we had taken but in and of itself does not automatically result in allowing Sunapee to develop the land between what we had thought was the boundary line (and the lease border),” Head said.