Conservation groups oppose Cog Railway's plans for Skyline Lodge

By Barbara Tetreault

MOUNT WASHINGTON — The Mount Washington Cog Railway has not submitted an application to build a proposed 35-room hotel about 1,000 below the summit of Mount Washington but six conservation organizations have served notice there will be stiff opposition to such a proposal.

The organizations sent a joint letter to the Coos County Planning and Zoning Boards saying they have deep concerns about the adverse impacts such a project would have "on one of New Hampshire’s most iconic natural and cultural resources." The letter urges the boards to rule such a Skyline Lodge would not be permissible under the county’s zoning ordinance.

"We hope the planning board and any other potential decision‐makers, if and when a specific development proposal is submitted that mirrors what the Cog has released to date, will conclude that a hotel in Mount Washington’s alpine zone is not a permissible use," said the four-page letter. It was signed by representatives of the Appalachian Mountain Club, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Audubon Society of New Hampshire, Conservation Law Foundation New Hampshire, Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire.

Cog Railway owners Wayne Presby and Joel Bedor held a preliminary discussion with the Coos County Planning Board in December about building a high-end hotel at a former boarding site located at 5,200 feet. It would be built on a 99-foot strip of land the Cog Railway owns all the way to the summit. An attorney for the railway later contacted planning board Chairman John Scarinza inquiring about the regulatory process and what permits would be required. Attorney Elizabeth Thompson wrote she believes the project would need site plan approval, a development permit and a high-elevation permit from the planning board and a variance from the 25-foot side setback requirement from the zoning board.

The organizations point out that Coos County’s zoning ordinance restricts development above 2,700 feet to protect sensitive high elevation areas. They note the fragile alpine zone on Mount Washington represents the single largest concentration of rare and endangered species in the state and experiences extreme weather conditions. In addition to its ecological values, the letter states Mount Washington has extraordinary scenic and cultural value and has taken on iconic status.

The conservation groups ask the planning board not to be swayed by the Cog Railway’s offer to mitigate existing environmental issues on the summit, such as problems with the septic system, if the project is approved.

The Coos County Planning Board is scheduled to meet next Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 6 p.m. at the North Country Resource Center in Lancaster, but the Cog Railway is not listed on the agenda.

The newly formed Coos County Zoning Board will hold its first organizational meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 6 p.m. at the North Country Resource Center in Lancaster.