Balsams easement amendment cleared

AG decides to take no action on Forest Society’s change to conservation restriction

The development team planning the renovation and expansion of the Balsams Resort in Dixville has cleared yet another hurdle, with a decision by the Attorney General’s Charitable Trusts Unit to take no action on an amendment to a conservation easement held by the Society for the Protection of NH Forests.

The conservation easement was acquired by the Forest Society four years ago on some 5,690 acres surrounding the Balsams. It was seen as a way of blocking construction of the Northern Pass electric transmission project, which at that time was proposed to pass through the property. The society raised $850,000 from some 1,500 donors to pay for the easement.

But in December, the society's board voted for amendments to the easement that would allow the Balsams developers to build ski lifts, trails and lift terminals on a 20-acre portion of the protected land in return for conserving land elsewhere.

Some of the donors publicly objected to the decision.

But in the “no action” letter, Thomas Donovan, director of the Charitable Trusts Unit, wrote that amendment should be “reviewed in context,” adding that “the restricted property and the proposed amendment support the recreational uses of the Balsams Resort, which has been and is proposed again to be a major commercial enterprise.”

He said the AG’s analysis of the amendment found that it is not "high risk" and “does not propose or threaten a change of overall purpose requiring a court petition for deviation or for application of the cy-pres doctrine.” The “cy-pres” doctrine refers to allowing an amendment of a charitable trust under terms that are close as possible as the original intent of the trust .

Les Otten, who heads the development team, called the decision “another significant step forward in our plans to responsibly renovate and expand the Balsams Resort into a world-class, four-season destination that will create more than a thousand new jobs and lift up the entire North Country economy.”

The Balsams project includes renovation of the Dix, Hampshire and Hale houses, as well as the Panorama golf course and clubhouse designed by golf course architect Donald Ross. The Balsams Lake Village, which will encompass the Dix and Hampshire Houses, would feature a new Wilderness Lake Lodge, a 500-seat conference center, hot springs baths and spa, a performing arts center and an open-air marketplace.

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