LENOX — Zoning Board of Appeals members have given a high five to the Mahida family's Lenox Manor Hotel and Events Center off Routes 7 and 20.
After less than an hour of discussion on Wednesday, the board unanimously approved a package of permits and conditions for the project to demolish the dilapidated, 100-room Magnuson Hotel after the summer season and replace it with a 100-suite, extended stay facility.
The project is expected to cost $22 million to $24 million, provide about 25 full- and part-time jobs after construction and funnel at least $355,000 in annual lodging and property tax revenues into town coffers.
The Events Center can host up to 500 people for weddings, conferences and other gatherings year-round and is viewed as a major economic development advance for the area, since many events guests would be lodged at other nearby hotels.
"With much-appreciated town approval, we are now planning to demolish the existing building at the end of the summer season so as to be ready for the fall 2017 opening of the new hotel and event center," said Pravin Mahida. The brother of developer Vijay Mahida will manage the 130 Pittsfield Road LLC, operation.
"We are very thankful for everything," Vijay Mahida said after the meeting. "Everybody did an excellent job and I'm very excited." He complimented the work of the team members as well as town officials and board members.
In a series of rapid-fire unanimous votes, the board approved the overall special permit for the hotel, the events center, a height waiver and the site plan. Additional endorsements covered 14 conditions proposed by the developer as well as a clarification covering cooking and food-storage facilities as a non-conforming use.
"It's a really great idea, a beautiful design and a use that supports the research of the need for an additional hotel here," ZBA member Shawn Leary Considine told the Mahidas, "especially because you were so responsive to the town as well as the neighbors, which is very much appreciated especially in the short time frame, not an easy thing to do."
ZBA member Robert Fuster Sr. complimented the design team, singling out architect Robert Harrison and Town Planner Gwen Miller for special kudos. "I'm pleased that we have the structure within this town to deal with a project of this scope in this fashion," Fuster said.
Board member Ned Douglas singled out the refinements to the project "so that everybody comes away feeling really good about what happens there. I know it took a lot of time and effort."
Member Cliff Snyder voiced appreciation for the "cooperative effort that will benefit everybody involved."
ZBA Chairman Ethan Berg lauded "the more professional, fact-based decision-making" as well as "the civility between project proponents and the neighbors. The ability to do creative problem-solving goes a long way and this project is an outstanding example of neighbors and proponents being able to work through issues that are genuine."
"The fact everyone was able to come together is really inspiring and hopefully sets a standard within Lenox," he added. "I think it's reflective of the approach that Lenox is hoping to take for high-quality projects."
Lenox Manor is expected to be branded as a Marriott Residence Inn or a Hilton Homewood Suites property, but the neighborhood-friendly design by architect Harrison and landscape architect Rob Akroyd is final and will not be altered by affiliation with a national chain.
Approval at the second zoning board hearing followed the announcement by project attorney William E. Martin of an accord with the neighboring Twelve Oaks Condominiums and with the Curme family, owner of the adjacent Dormers property, addressing views, noise, lighting and traffic impacts.
Martin and attorney John Gobel, representing Twelve Oaks and the Curmes, hatched the agreement that produced what Martin described as "changes that make it a more successful project" while accommodating the neighbors.
"We were particularly happy to be able to work out the issues dealing with screening, views and noise," said Gobel. "All of us are here in support of this application as presented and as amended."
As detailed by Harrison, Akroyd and Civil Engineer Jim Scalise, the revisions include a buffer of as many trees as possible, installation of a retaining wall between the hotel and the condo properties, and removing four parking spaces and relocating five others and a service road that would have been adjacent to the neighboring sites.
Controls on noise, shielded lighting, and time limits on construction activity were among the 14 special conditions attached to the project application by the Mahidas.
The developer also will cover the neighbors' legal fees and provide $30,000 for Twelve Oaks owners to add additional screening to their property.
As requested by the town, permanent electronic speed-check signs will be installed on the state highway south of the property, sidewalks are to be extended to the south, and a traffic study 13 months after the hotel opens will determine whether to seek state Department of Transportation approval of a traffic signal for the hotel entrance opposite West Dugway Road.
Addressing an issue raised by Fuster, a condition was added clarifying that the 100 suites will contain kitchenettes, a use undefined in town bylaws. Martin, acknowledging a need "to defend against a potential appeal," noted that nearly all lodging enterprises in town have microwaves, mini-refrigerators and related equipment.
Leary Considine added language "grandfathering" the new hotel's extended-stay kitchenettes as a pre-existing, non-conforming use since the current Magnuson Hotel already has food storage and cooking facilities.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
At a glance ...
Project: A 100-suite, extended stay hotel and 500-person capacity, 14,400-square-foot Events Center on the site of the 120-room Magnuson Hotel, built in 1964 as a Holiday Inn, with 273 parking spaces
Cost: $22 million-$24 million
Revenue for town: At least $355,000 annually in property and lodging taxes
Timeline: Magnuson demolition after the summer, followed by construction and anticipated opening of the new facility in the fall of 2017
Applicants: Vijay and Pravin Mahida, 130 Pittsfield Road, LLC, and Sweta Pandya, manager of the Magnuson for Shivam Realty. The Mahidas will purchase the Shivam property for an undisclosed price after leasing and operating it through the summer.
Expected Affiliation: Either a Marriott Residence Inn or a Hilton Homewood Suites
Project Architect: Robert E. Harrison, Berkshire Design, Great Barrington
Landscape Architect: Robert T. Akroyd, Greylock Design Associates, Lenox
Civil Engineer/Planner: James Scalise, SK Design Group, Pittsfield
Other Mahida Properties: Marriott's Fairfield Inn & Suites, the recently approved, 88-room Berkshire Hotel, and Days Inn, all in Great Barrington, and the Hilton Garden Inn on Routes 7 and 20 in Pittsfield