It has not been easy to come to "yes" on a proposed hotel for the Waubeeka Golf Links in southern Williamstown. Ideally, for all parties, it will happen.
Developer Mike Deep wants to build a hotel at Waubeeka, which he owns, and needs a change in the zoning bylaw to do so. The specifics of the hotel plan have evolved, which concerns neighbors and the town planning board. A chicken-and-egg situation developed in which the planners demanded more information before considering a bylaw change while Mr. Deep and his attorney countered that more specific information could not be provided without assurance of a zoning change.
The delays and accompanying bad feeling resulted in Mr. Deep filing a citizens petition for the zoning change to be considered at the annual Town Meeting. Frustrations aside, doing an end run around the Planning Board is not a way to build good will, and the Town Meeting process is far from an ideal way to deal with the complexities of a hotel proposal on a critically important parcel of land.
Waubeeka is situated on a portion of Route 7 that is among the most scenic sections of the Berkshires. For that matter, it offers some of the most dramatic vistas in the state and region. Nothing should be done to jeopardize that section of highway.
Waubeeka itself is an attractive golf course and it is easy to imagine far worse uses for that land. Mr. Deep wants to build a hotel there to help assure the economic survival of the golf course, which is in the town's best interests. An attractive hotel on the golf course property, which is readily accessible to patrons on Route 7, would be appealing to visitors, giving a needed boost to the tax base and to retailers and restaurants.
Earlier this month, Mr. Deep offered concessions to concerned neighbors, including an increase in the setback from 500 feet to 2,500 feet, a reduction in the footprint from 40 acres to 10 acres, capping the hotel at 120 rooms and assurances that no homes will be built in the Waubeeka Overlay District. The original proposal of a boutique hotel located on 3-5 acres is still preferred by many neighbors.
A boutique hotel is ideal aesthetically, but Mr. Deep needs a plan that he is confident will be economically feasible before he goes forward. A 120-room hotel doesn't seem unreasonable given the size of the property and a guarantee that no homes will be built within the overlay district would alleviate the legitimate concerns of neighbors.
Williamstown, like every town in the Berkshires, is looking for ways to build its tax base. Like most Berkshire towns, Williamstown wants to do so without jeopardizing the aesthetic beauty that makes Berkshire towns attractive to tourists and enjoyable places in which to live. A hotel at Waubeeka is basically a good idea with benefits for all parties and there would seem to be plenty of middle ground for all parties to come together within. Let's find ways to make it happen rather than find ways to assure it doesn't.