Vernon, NJ, Aug. 7--A group of five environmental groups filed suit in New Jersey Superior Court last week to reverse a local zoning change that gives Intrawest, owner of Mountain Creek, the ability to develop 2,000 acres with as many as 2,000 residential units a golf course, retail shops and hotels. Mountain Creek's plans are to build a resort village at the resort base as well as condominiums at a site near the top of Vernon Peak.
A primary issue is 1,257 acres at the mountaintop site that was once part of a state wildlife management area that was sold to the resort's former owners in 1986. But according to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, that land was transferred with a deed restriction that says the land "may be used only for parks, natural areas, forests, camping, fishing, water reserves, wildlife, reservoirs, hunting boating, winter sports and similar uses."
On June 26, Vernon officials reclassified 2,000 acres, including the parcel with the deed restriction, as "mountain resort zone" to make way for the development, which includes a golf course and about half of the planned condominiums at four different sites at the mountaintop.
While the Conservation Foundation, the state chapter of the Audubon Society, Association for New Jersey Environmental Commissions, Sierra Club and Environmental Defense have said the town's rezoning and Intrawest's project contradict the township's 1995 master plan and the deed restriction, Vernon and Intrawest officials have said the action was correct and won't affect the deed restriction, and, in fact, support protection of the environment.
"The plan does not involve any residential development in the deed-restricted land," said Don Ross, a vice president of Intrawest and the chief executive for real estate and development at Mountain Creek.
Ross said that the mountaintop condominium development is proposed for four separate parcels totalling approximately 400 acres, none of which fall within the deed-restricted area. And though the planned golf course does, Ross pointed out that golf "is clearly permitted" in the deed-restricted parcel as determined by a joint township-state agreement reached some 10 years ago.
"There is prior approval for 27 holes," said Ross. "We're only proposing 18, in part because we were being sensitive to local concerns." An unpaved, but passable road already winds its way up to the site, which includes a group of small lakes.