A Look at the Development Five Years Later
Story and Photo By John Thomas
It is a great idea, a major expansion of the premier private ski club in the country.
About six years ago HoliMont announced the development of WestMont Ridge. Among the sales points were custom homes at slope-side, a new condo development, new runs, two new lifts, a terrain park and a spectacular new day lodge at the bottom of the Sunset run. All this in a four-season resort with plenty of summer activities. The project was to be completed in a series of phases. Thirty-one lots were put up for auction for phase one. All but eleven of them sold. It was anticipated Phase One would be complete in five years, and phase two would begin immediately after.
The auction generated a lot of excitement; some people bought more than one lot. But five years later, there is only one completed home in WestMont Ridge. Several of the purchased lots are up for re-sale. In trying to find out why the development seems stalled, The Villager talked to real estate agents, and contractors, some of whom asked not to be identified. One of the people willing to speak on record was Greg Culver, Retail, Rental and Marketing for HoliMont.
But it seems the story of WestMont Ridge is a tale, not of unrealistic expectations, but the way time and circumstance chip away at the best-laid plans. As Mr. Culver says, “All good plans need to be adjusted.” One of the challenges to the expansion is the current exchange rate of the Canadian Dollar. When the development began, the two dollars were at about equal value. But, since then the Canadian Dollar has slipped in value by about a third, making it more expensive for our neighbors to the North to build here. Mr. Culver says several years of bizarre winters have also taken their toll.
Each of the contractors I spoke with expressed the same concern over building at WestMont Ridge. Most of the hillside lots are steep, and that creates a challenge for building a home. The lot must be leveled to create a pad for the foundation. Run-off from the hillside can create problems of flooding and erosion. The builders all agreed, lot preparation costs can add $50,000 to $70,000 to building a home. That is on top of the expense of the lot, and before the foundation is poured. Several owners, who bought a lot with the intention of building, are now selling their parcel.
Realtor Cathy Pritchard takes an optimistic view of the development. She says lot preparation costs are to be expected when building a mountain home. Ms. Pritchard says those costs are not unlike the costs at Greer Hill, Leslie, and Niles. She adds, “People don’t need to build a humongous chalet, they can build in their comfort zone.” The realtor says activity has started again, and says she has two or three people looking at building in the project. “When you look across the country, we’re are so much more affordable.”
But perhaps the biggest obstacle to completion is the classic chicken-egg dilemma. HoliMont has had a tradition of using proceeds from lot sales to finance lodge and lift construction. It prevents the members from being burdened with assessments or a large service debt. But the policy can slow development. Both the new lodge and lift have their construction permits, but work can’t begin until more lots are sold. But potential buyers want to see the lift and lodge completed before committing to a purchase. Construction on the new condo units is also waiting for more lots to be sold.
A bit of history helps put the issue in perspective. Lots at the Greer Hill section of HoliMont were first offered for sale twenty years ago. As well developed as the neighborhood has become, there are still two lots for sale. The project was aided by the strong US dollar, and the drop-off in foreign travel after 911; people vacationed closer to home. Now, with jobs returning to the economy and the great recession fading into the past, the future is brighter for the development. Nevertheless, not every family can afford to build a custom ski home. As Mr. Culver points out, “WestMont Ridge is still a project for a more affluent demographic.” He says with access to mountain bike trails, the Finger Lakes Tail, and the host of activities in the summer, WestMont Ridge can provide a vacation lifestyle every week of the year. To borrow a line from an old movie, “If you build it they will come.”