Hawksnest and Town talks Break Down at least for now

I’m going to throw out this illustration: You own a piece of property on Seven Devils. You have a nice two bedroom house on it that you rent out OCCASIONALLY to other Seven Devils property owners when their families visit. You’re interested in adding another bedroom but the town won’t give you the right to do it. So you decide not to rent it out to anyone anymore. You close it up. The next thing you know, the town is saying that they are going to take steps to FORCE you to open your cabin up for rent and at a price that they are comfortable with. Oh, and by the way they don’t want to buy the land the house is on either. They just want the house. You’re kind of willing (if the price is right) to sell your house AND the land, but not separately. Only the town doesn’t WANT your land. I’d love to know how many of these property owners would go peacefully without shooting somebody over it.

Okay we know the illustration above is only CLOSE to what is happening up on Seven Devils. It might be a better analogy if the town wanted to buy your two car garage and not the house…but you get the picture. What the Town of Seven Devils and many of it’s property owners are contemplating doing is ludicrous and most if not all of them would fight tooth and nail if it were being done to them.

We continue to receive a lot of inquiries as to what is happening up at Hawksnest and there is good news and bad news. The good news is that AT LEAST THEY ARE TALKING! …and the talks seem to be more in line with what reasonable people do. I spoke with Justin Grimes on June 25th and he elaborated a bit on the news that there were talks going on that would both re-open the golf course and allow the owners to do some tweaks to the ski area.

The bad news is that as of this past Friday, June 29th, the talks broke down. Two committees were rumored to have met this past week to discuss options, but that’s not the case and weather and other obstacles prevented the meetings from taking place. Friday morning’s meeting included some heated comments and right now it does not look good for the town to run the golf course.

Town of Seven Devils board member Bill Wilkinson who owns Grandfather Trout Farm said, "I just don’t see any way that the town can afford to go forward with it."

Lenny Cottom was in attendance and was quoted as saying, "I would just like to not be micro managed every time I try to do something." He added that his requests for expansion of the ski area that have been denied repeatedly even though his requests involved less than 5% of the property.

I have spoken with Lenny on a number of occasions and there is not much doubt that he feels that he and his father are being railroaded in a sense. His feelings are that the town will not give in to their wishes for expansion unless the Cottom’s succumb to reopening the golf course side of the resort.

Cottom spoke out at Friday’s meeting saying, "This is my future. It’s my kids future. I’ve invested nearly twenty years of my life in this business and to be kind of railroaded out of it…upsets me."

I want to go on record to say that I am fully on the side of the Cottoms with Lenny’s statements. While I too would love to see the golf course reopen, the Cottoms own that property and they should be able to operate their business in a means that is competitive with other area resorts.

Until this past Friday it seemed as though all parties were taking a fresh approach to the original wishes that Leonard Cottom expressed years ago…and that was to be able to grow his ski area operations such that they can be more competitive and attract more skiers, snowboarders and tubing enthusiasts. With more visitors come the need for better parking and that has to be done in the area where the golf course used to sit.

Prior to Friday’s meeting Lenny Cottom summed up the resort owner’s thoughts succinctly when he was quoted as saying, "The meetings have been productive but we want to see more commitment from the town. We’re trying to work it out in good faith to work with the town to expand our ski area. To have golf, we have to be able to expand the skiing.” He also stated that the town should be looking hard at the cost to maintain the course, etc.

Translation: Any kind of agreement that the Cottoms make to allow the town to re-open the golf course has GOT TO INCLUDE an agreement from the town to allow them to expand the ski area operations.

Post Friday morning’s meeting, that seems to be a long shot. Beyond the obvious it is rather easy to read between the lines that while Cottom was hopeful that their talks would open up doors to allow expansion, he must not have put a lot of stock in that happening. During Friday’s meeting he didn’t really respond to the town’s statements or comments about not being able to afford the lease idea. His comment was simply, "I just want the town to stop micro managing me and allow me to expand the ski area."

Lenny was interviewed after the meeting and it hit the local airways later in the day. The summary of those comments were that the town now percieves that it can’t make money running the golf course with whatever terms for lease were set forth. Numbers such as $100,000 a year lease were being tossed around last week, but one has the feeling that it would not matter what kind of number was being stated. Cottom was heard to say, "I am getting the feeling that if I don’t cooperate with them (the town) with a lease package, then they will threaten me with Eminent Domain again."

Seven Devils Mayor Bob Dodson did leave a little wiggle room for a possible resolution by saying that he wants to look further into the financial feasibility before moving any further forward. The mayor spoke of financing issues of potentially buying the resort and/or leasing it and handling whatever maintanance etc.

What is obvious is that the town is not totally ruling out any ideas of still trying to force the Cottom’s hand. Some property owners and board members have expressed that the town will do what is necessary to see the golf course open again and that included ideas that would enforce some level of eminent domain. One member recently suggested that the courts might rule in favor of forcing the Cottom’s to enter negotiations to sell the course to the town or some third party consortium. No matter what name you try to plaster on that, it still stinks to high heaven. The town is not interested in buying the resort as a whole. They only want the golf course to reopen. If they are given the ability to open the golf course on their terms, the Cottom’s get nothing and they don’t even get their asking price for their business. The Cottom’s have made it crystal clear that they are not interested in selling the golf course as a separate entity. That should be their right to sell their property as they desire. If someone (or the town) wants to meet their price then it’s theirs. If the Cottom’s want to inflate the price and nobody is willing to meet it, then it is their right not to sell it.

Regardless, I’d love to see how many of the Seven Devils property owners would embrace the town forcing THEM to sell their land at any price that a 3rd party might dictate.

We will update you further when we have more concrete news to share.

One thing that I do want to state in closing is that some of your emails about this subject are way overzealous in what some of you are thinking that this will mean in terms of Hawksnest’s growth. Don’t look for a larger ski area per se. Any immediate growth would come more in the beginner terrain and or tweaking of where the snow tubing hill is located, etc. Some have assumed that this expansion would come in the form of something that would match the mural on the wall at Hawksnest’s lodge. Not so fast my young, overzealous friends. Change comes slowly when you’re dealing with "city hall" and especially this particular little town!

Until Next Time…

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