Friday October 19, 2012

LENOX -- The first new downtown commercial project in more than a decade has cleared its initial hurdle when the Historic District Commission approved plans for the expansion of Nejaime’s Wine Cellar in the Village Center, just off Main Street.

The preservation-oriented commission voted 3-0, with one abstention, to green-light a new wing for the long-established business owned by Joseph Nejaime.

Prior to groundbreaking, the proposal by Village Center property owner Drew Davis of PVI Lenox Village LLC has to pass muster with the Zoning Board of Appeals, which would be asked to grant a special permit at a meeting yet to be scheduled.

Following the commission session Tuesday evening, Davis and Nejaime, along with their attorney Philip Heller, said they were pleased by the swift approval. Davis said no price tag for the project is available yet.

The proposed buildout of the 60 Main St. business, opposite the post office, would accommodate Nejaime’s diverse array of gourmet and specialty foods, in addition to his extensive line of spirits.

Nejaime has signed a long-term lease with Davis’ Springfield-based company. The expansion, which will include extensive interior remodeling, is targeted for completion before next summer’s busy tourism season, Nejaime said.


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The project involves a new wing on the east side of the existing building, formerly Bull’s Garage before it became the Lemon Tree gift shop in the 1970s. It would add 1,880 square feet to the existing 3,024-square-foot store Nejaime has owned since 1999.

Davis bought the Village Center in January 2011 for $1.7 million, and he has already started improving the post office building with new roof work and other structural upgrades.

According to the plans, parking in the center, which contains a half-dozen other businesses, would be reconfigured, with 60 spaces compared to the current 62, remaining within zoning requirements.

Architect John Barry, of Pittsfield, attended the commission meeting, presented the plans and responded to detailed questions from commissioners about the project.

"We were concerned about trying to maintain the character of the building and the district’s look," said Barry, though he described it as a "non-historic building" that’s complementary to the other buildings in the downtown historic district. A new retaining wall and landscaping is included in the plans.

During an extended discussion of proposed trim and roof colors, Chairman Jason Berger cautioned members that "we’re walking a fine line here" since town bylaws do not give the commission jurisdiction over colors for existing buildings.

"If Joe wanted to paint the building red when he’s done, he could," Berger observed.

Heller has described the project as sensitive and consistent with the architectural styles of the downtown district as well as a means of expanding the town’s tax base at a time when there’s no new residential development on the horizon.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Historic District Commission also approved a remodeling project for the town-owned Lenox Community Center, built in 1926 as a men’s club.

The first phase of the project is expected to cost $30,000, said Kim Graham, the center’s director. Follow-up work will be covered through a $60,000 capital budget expenditure approved by voters at Town Meeting last May.