Real estate investment company Amstar doesn’t typically find itself in the middle of local tempests, Amstar CEO Gabe Finke declared Monday night during a heated public hearing on Amstar’s controversial Elm Court proposal, but there is nothing typical about Lenox and Stockbridge. They, like many or most Berkshire communities, will not automatically welcome projects because they promise jobs and tax dollars, as factors like quality of life and Berkshire heritage and traditions will be put front and center.
As Mr. Finke also observed, the Elm Court resort proposal is not equivalent to putting a Walmart on Old Stockbridge Road. The overwrought nature of the opposition would be justified if a Walmart had been proposed for that spot -- or if a turnpike extension, a longtime Stockbridge bogeyman, had been brought forward yet again. The problem with the Elm Court idea is less the concept than its size.
Elm Court is a late-19th century pile in need of renovation if it is to last much longer into the 21st century. Mr. Finke is plainly used to being welcomed when he offers to sink $50 million into a local project, but bringing forward a project of the size and scope of Canyon Ranch or Cranwell Resort is not necessarily a selling point. And with the entrance and frontage in Lenox and the rest of the property in Stockbridge, the developer must deal with two towns that don’t necessarily see bigger as better and are fussy about whatever is suggested for their communities.
Considering that the mansion has 16 rooms, a structure containing 112 rooms is intimidating in size, as is a 15,000-square-foot spa. There would seem to be a vast middle ground between going ahead with this project as proposed and letting Elm Court go completely to rot.
Luckily Tanglewood, which also straddles Lenox and Stockbridge, came into being three-quarters of a century ago as it is difficult to imagine it passing muster today. Hard as it is to build in those towns, the Elm Court plan should happen, although on a smaller scale, as it will provide tangible economic benefits as a tourist draw. The Stockbridge Select Board suspended Monday’s meeting until September 8, and ideally by then, the developer can return with a more modest plan to offer and residents will return with open minds as to how it can be made to work.