LENOX -- Deepening division marked another prolonged public debate of the proposed 92-room Marriott hotel project on a small portion of the 75-acre Brushwood Farms property in the town's commercial zone along Routes 7 and 20.

During a two-hour discussion before the Planning Board on Tuesday night, project applicant Joseph M. Toole urged members not to try to "legislate taste" after his team presented design version 3.0 for the $10 million, four-story hotel.

Revised facade elements retain the basic size, scale and height of the building on a 6.68 acre parcel. Among the new features is a mansard roof, French gables and other elements of the neoclassical, early 19th century French Empire architectural style, also popular in the U.S. Several examples of the style can be seen in Lenox.

"We feel like we've gone a long way to address the buzzword of ‘not being historic' and try, by virtue of design, to make it look less bulky," Toole asserted.

His design team emphasized that the hotel, still 43 feet at the roof line and 47 feet at its peak, remains well set back from the state highway and includes extensive, enhanced landscape screening through plantings -- mostly evergreens -- that would shield most of the building. Two-thirds of the site would remain open space.

"The bulk and density stays the same," said landscape architect Rob Akroyd. "Moving from facade to facade shouldn't have an impact on the size or scale of the building itself."

"We're talking about the same rectangular box, essentially, with design changes," said Planning Board Chairwoman Kate McNulty Vaughan. She described it as "a very important project to the town. There are many people who feel that this is going to set the tone for this particular area of development that will occur in the future."

"We're going to nudge as much as we can to get the best possible project for the town," she emphasized before an audience of more than 20 residents and additional spectators. "That's what our job is."

Despite what turned into a clamorous, occasionally heated, but mostly polite discussion at the meeting, the majority of residents who have sent letters to the Planning Board and the Zoning Board lean in favor of the project as presented.

During the meeting's public comment period, resident Patty Spector raised environmental and site-design concerns, while architect and local resident Jim Harwood expressed "encouragement with the progress from last week to this week, but I'm still concerned that there's a long way to go."

But Phil Halpern, owner of Brook Farm Inn, urged approval, citing an expected $400,000 annual revenue stream from the hotel. "A Marriott has a positive impact on the community," he declared. "It brings its own customers, new people to the community. It's not going to cannibalize my business or any other business."

He also viewed the hotel as a "catalyst for the Brushwood Farms property, which I can only describe as decrepit."

Halpern termed the proposed building "attractive." "You're not going to find long lines of developers willing to invest in this community," he maintained. "Here you have one, and quite frankly, you're giving him a hard time over the height, and I don't think the height matters, because of the setback."

Appearing as co-counsel for Toole, attorney John Gobel addressed written objections from attorney William E. Martin, representing rival developer Vijay Mahida.

Martin complained that the application came in under commercial zoning bylaws rather than under guidelines for mixed-use projects recommended in the "Gateway Overlay District" adopted by the town in 2002 for the state highway just north of Lenox.

"If Mr. Toole wanted to include retail, he'd have to use the overlay district," Gobel said. "But since his proposed use is permitted by a special permit (in the commercial zone), he doesn't have to."

Planning Board member Gary Schiff responded that "I'm having a very difficult time. ... Joe's got a very compelling case for a project like this for the town, but the issue really is the fit, relative to the spirit and intent of what has come before as an appropriate approach for this land."

Gobel countered that the design changes increases the "fit" for a New England town, and that the screening and the "view control" makes it look "very attractive for a gateway region."

But Schiff replied: "Basically, what you've told us is that you're going to spend $10 million building a building that you think might look like some of the surroundings, and then you're going to do your best to hide it. ... If you want a Lenox address, the idea is, let's make this thing approach and meet the standards of Lenox. Don't just design a building and tell us you're going to hide it. Kind of defeats the purpose, I think."

Later, wrapping up the meeting, Toole explained that the building can't be moved back or forward on its small parcel and contended that his project meets gateway-district design standards. "I can't change the footprint, the size of the land, and I can't move it back, and to bring it forward, you'd lose your meadow," he said. "We're trying to please everybody, we're trying to mitigate the mass by hiding the damn thing!"

"It all comes down to taste," he said, "and in fact the state of Massachusetts prohibits planners from legislating taste."

Board member Mark Smith said he likes the current design better, "but I want to like it more and I think you're getting there. But you're right. ... I appreciate the effort you've gone to."

"We're thrilled that you're here," Schiff added. "It's a net plus but I want you to think about separating the issue of taste from the issue of height, mass and size. I'm looking at what you hope to do here, not wanting to hide it. I'm trying to encourage you to build a project that we want to see."

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
(413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto