Tuesday September 25, 2012

LENOX -- Reflecting a recent upswing in commercial real estate and business activity, one of the first new downtown building projects or expansions since well before the Great Recession is under consideration for the historic village.

Longtime merchant Joseph Nejaime, in business with his family for more than 30 years, and Drew Davis, the owner of the Village Center in the heart of downtown, have applied to the town's Historic District Commission for approval of an expansion at Nejaime's Wine Cellar just off Main Street.

Although the commission will be giving the project the twice-over, real estate and zoning attorney Philip Heller has voiced hope that the proposal will pass muster with the detail-oriented commission.

According to Nejaime, the proposed buildout of his store at 60 Main St., opposite the post office, is "exciting, appropriately sized and needed in the village."

The proposed expansion would offer more space for his diverse line of spirits and specialty foods, he said. "It would be a fresh look; we would do more of what works," he said.

Nejaime noted that he has a long-term lease with PVI Lenox Village LLC, which is owned by Davis and based in Springfield. The undisclosed cost of the project would be shared, with Davis handling the exterior work while Nejaime is responsible for a complete interior remodeling.

Pending town approval, Davis said the goal would be able to complete the work in time for next summer's busy tourism season.

If the Historic District Commission gives a green light, the proposal would go to the town's zoning board for a special permit. The project will be presented to the HDC at a hearing Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 5:30 p.m., in Town Hall.

The plan calls for a one-story, 1,880-square-foot addition to the east side of the existing building that houses Nejaime's, which is currently 3,024 square feet.

Davis, who purchased the Village Center in January 2011 for $1.7 million, said he and Nejaime -- whose potential new store in Great Barrington has been shelved -- have been discussing the potential project since that time.

The plans call for maintaining the number of parking spaces required by zoning, Davis said, though a reconfiguration of the center's parking area would reduce the number of spaces from 62 to 60.

Barry Architects, of Pittsfield, has drawn up the plans.

"We're working with Joe [Nejaime] to help him expand his business and bring in a new project to improve the downtown," Davis said.

Davis has renovated the existing wooden building housing the post office, Villager Gifts and several other businesses with a new roof and energy-efficient enhancements.

According to attorney Heller, the project conforms with historic district and zoning guidelines. He pointed out that the Nejaime's site was formerly Bull's Garage, a building with "no historic significance."

"In our opinion, it's a fairly small addition, not a massive change in the building," Heller said. "The siding, brickwork [and] roof peaks on the addition are consistent with what's already there."

"We take the position that this is an improvement," he added. "Increased retail space, maximizing the tax base, an existing business that wants to expand -- in today's economy, anytime you have commercial development, that's not a bad thing."

In Heller's view, "this is something for which the town should be very supportive. It's consistent in a sensitive way with the architectural styles that are downtown. Lenox is looking for reasonable development, so we hope the HDC will pass this."

To reach Clarence Fanto: cfanto@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6247 On Twitter: @BE_cfanto