There has been much speculation about the future of the Mount Hotham Airport in recent months as the community waited to see who would buy it.

It has now been announced that the Grollo family has acquired Mount Hotham Airport for more than $6.5 million and ‘plans to develop residential accommodation for workers and staff at the nearby Mt Hotham and Dinner Plain ski resorts on the 105-hectare site’.

The airport is a significant section of higher elevation private land along the Great Alpine Road from Omeo to Dinner Plain/ Mt Hotham. Many in the community had hoped that the new owner (it was previously owned by Vail Resorts) would focus on building for the community good – that is, provide affordable accommodation for on mountain workers and their families.

It would appear that this is the intention of the new owners. According to reporting in the Australian Financial Review, Grollo Group chief executive Lorenz Grollo has said that “the surplus land, which is freehold, is available for development so long as you comply with the alpine regulations and the standards.”

“All resorts need to get better accommodation for their staff and need to lift the standard of worker accommodation in order to attract staff.”

Grollo Group property manager Martin Ansell said residential development on the site was likely to be in the form of a village, with a number of buildings providing a range of different accommodation types, to reflect the different needs of people working on the ski fields.

Grollo Group already has developments at Mt Hotham and is probably best known for their long involvement at Mt Buller. Buller has been developed within an inch of its life, with a large urban footprint on a small physical area of mountain top. This development, in turn, puts pressure on the network of ski runs, which has led to substantial fragmentation of the snow gum forests on the mountain and major negative impacts like the 100 megalitre storage dam build in recent years to provide water for drinking, firefighting and snowmaking. This involved the destruction of about 5 hectares of treeless alpine native vegetation, mostly an ecosystem called ‘alpine grassy heathland’.

Let’s hope any new development at the airport is of a reasonable scale, is diverse and suitable for a range of workers and seasonal visitors, and designed to minimise environmental impacts. It is essential that local (Dinner Plain/ Hotham) businesses and the on mountain community are consulted about their aspirations for new and diverse accommodation options early in the planning phase of the new development.

It is not yet clear what the plans are for the airport itself (there is room to lengthen the runway, to allow larger planes).