GREAT BARRINGTON >> Wow! All hell is breaking loose over the proposed new hotel where the dilapidated Searles school now stands, empty and forlorn.
Vijay Mahida and his wife, Chrystal, have a highly successful record as hoteliers in the Berkshires. At a recent Selectboard meeting attended by a big crowd, Mahida seemed intent on bringing people into the conversation in support of his project, a 95-room hotel where the old school now stands.
Mahida and his crew will take some of the bricks from the old school to use as the façade for the new hotel. He says that a great deal of tax money will help fill the town coffers and alleviate the very heavy taxes that the townspeople have to pay. All that is good.
He and his people made a brilliant presentation worthy of the very best New York City advertising agency. To put it mildly, this guy means business. I am struck by the fact that almost everyone who knows the Mahidas has only good things to say about them.
Mr. Mahida has proven himself adept at keeping his cool under fire. However, accounts of the meeting make it clear that the Mahidas may be reaching the end of their tolerance tether. According to the Berkshire Edge, Mrs. Mahida was surprised at "the malicious attacks by people who don't run successful businesses here." That's what we call a bad move.
The people who oppose the hotel — including my good and lovely wife — on what I can only see as reasonable grounds are passionate folks. They are acting in what they consider the best interests of the town.
They have very good reasons for opposing the hotel. They point out that a town law limits hotels to 45 rooms while the Mahidas say they need 95 to operate successfully. The opponents feel it is terrible to pass a law that says no more than 45 rooms and then arbitrarily change it to 95 rooms. Hey, the rules are the rules and you don't get to change them without a very good reason.
Then there is the matter of parking. There are technical requirements that the Mahidas maintain are being met but have you tried to find a parking place in Great Barrington lately? The reality is something altogether different.
There's also the question of traffic. Anyone who has ever gone to the Co-op on Bridge Street and then patiently waited to make a right or left turn onto Main Street while the light turns several times knows all about that. If it's that bad without a 95-room hotel, then what will it be like when the hotel gets built?
With all that said, I personally don't care if the hotel is built or not. I do care about the slick way in which the project is being marketed, with the top get-it-done lawyer in Great Barrington playing a substantial role. In addition, I think it might be a good idea if the people who vote on town boards are vetted for short- or long-term conflicts of interest in this whole matter.
There are many people who think this has been a done deal since Minute One. After all, a huge hotel in the middle of town will certainly help restaurants and retail businesses.
That said, there are many good business people in town who vehemently oppose the new edifice. They want the old Great Barrington, the picturesque one; they don't want a commercialized, cutesy town that will only compound the disaster of the horrible Holland Tunnel streetlights.
Finally, I need to say that I love Jane Iredale and I would never want to be party to anything that would hurt this wonderful woman who has done so much for all of us. I would hate to see her sale of Searles go south because of anything I've written or said. It's that simple.