LENOX — An ambitious $30 million project to expand, renovate and transform Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort into a prime "mindfulness spa" resort under new ownership has won an endorsement from the Planning Board.
Following a two and a half hour presentation on Tuesday night, the board voted 3-0 to relay a favorable advisory recommendation to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which has the final say on the application. The ZBA will meet at 7 p.m. Aug. 3 in the Town Hall auditorium.
The Miraval Group, operating locally as CRW Holdings LLC, is seeking approval of modified special permits held by Cranwell's current and former owners. The developer seeks to build a 53-room guest cottage, according to attorney F. Sydney Smithers of Cain, Hibbard & Myers in Pittsfield.
The proposed expansion would bring the resort's total room count from 105 to 148 "keys," in the parlance of the hospitality industry, as well as the existing 36 condominium units known as FairWynds II at Cranwell. Ten guest rooms in three smaller cottages would become housing for temporary employees.
If the ZBA approves the revised special permit, CRW Holdings would assume majority ownership, with Camp Group LLC remaining as a minority partner. During two years of construction, the resort would remain open with some limitations.
The revamped Miraval-Lenox is targeted for completion by mid-2019.
Camp Group, which operates four summer camps in the Berkshires, and L D Builders, which owns Lenox Commons and four condominium developments, had purchased Cranwell from its previous owners, the Burack family, for $18 million just over one year ago.
The Planning Board's purview includes a developer's compliance with zoning bylaws, compatibility with the town's 1999 master plan, protection of environmental standards and regulations, compliance with "generally accepted site design, layout and architectural style," and "general compatibility with surrounding land areas and development," said acting Chairman Thomas Delasco.
Board member Pam Kueber described the developer's presentation as "extremely well done and complete." She cited the project's "consistency with the master plan, doing what we can to promote tourism in Lenox, which is so important to our economy."
Kueber characterized the spa orientation of Miraval as a "diversification" of the town's offerings to visitors compared to new hotels being developed such as Courtyard by Marriott and Lenox Manor on the site of the current Magnuson Hotel.
Citing the project's expansion of the town's economic base, Kueber called it "very positive, I can see virtually no negatives to this" as long as relationships are maintained with neighbors and any complications during construction are addressed. "I'm assuming you're a first-class resort," she told the Miraval team.
Board member Kate McNulty-Vaughan said she was "satisfied with most of the answers" presented by the Miraval team.
"The presentation and the materials were all very well-prepared," Delasco agreed.
"We want to be part of the community and maintain the integrity of the mansion and Beecher's Cottage, and address local issues in a very open, collaborative way," Miraval Group President & CEO Steven A. Rudnitsky said.
After the meeting, Rudnitsky told The Eagle "I'll be a very happy man" if his company's total investment came in at $30 million or less.
Cranwell's existing 18-hole golf course would remain open to the public. If the state Department of Transportation approves, a tunnel would be constructed under Route 20 (Lee Road) to connect the main resort to the driving range and the 220-seat Harvest Barn.
Among Miraval's prime selling points for its plan, first submitted to the town on June 30, is the infusion of $1.1 million into the town treasury for development fees, including water and sewer line hookups, and a projected $1.3 million a year in sales, property and lodging taxes.
The Miraval Group, based in Denver, has operated a successful spa resort in Tucson, Ariz., for 20 years and recently added the Miraval Life in Balance Spa to the Monarch Beach luxury hotel in Orange County, Calif., overlooking the Pacific.
During the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting, Delasco read a letter of support from the Fairwynds condominium board of trustees.
The letter stated that Fairwynds and the town stands to benefit from the project, which would "enhance the reputation of Lenox as a vacation destination and contribute positively to the community."
But several residents of the condo development questioned whether they would continue to enjoy their current access to the resort's amenities.
"We're going to adhere to the agreements we have with everybody," Rudnitsky said. "We want the local community to use the spa. We're going to sort out what's fair for the neighbors."
"We clearly have every intention of allowing all our neighbors on the property," he added, "whatever service they're looking for. We're absolutely certain that no gate would impede your ability to get to the pool, Sloane's Tavern, the tennis courts. Any one of those three will be sacred."
Rudnitsky agreed to meet with the neighbors to work out specifics.
Walker Street resident Susan Foulds, a real estate agent, asked whether the developers had conducted an economic impact study on how the town's shops and restaurants would be affected. She described the resort as a "closed environment encouraging customers to stay on campus" rather than check out downtown businesses.
Rudnitsky, acknowledging no formal study had been done, asserted that "intuitively, to a great extent the town is going to be positively impacted. One of the reasons we chose Lenox was the other amenities people are drawn to."
He commented that the majority of Miraval's guests are women over 35 who would be drawn to downtown shopping.
"There's going to be a new, fresh influx of people coming into Lenox," Rudnitsky said. "I cannot imagine them not wanting to come to see this beautiful town and walk into the shops and have lunch. You're going to get incremental customers into Lenox."
Town Planner and Land Use Director Gwen Miller said resorts like the proposed Miraval create a "multiplier" effect as guests patronize retail stores and restaurants.
Miller will prepare a memo summarizing the Planning Board recommended approval for presentation at a followup meeting next week before the scheduled ZBA session.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
At a glance ...
Here are highlights of CRW Holdings's proposal to transform Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort into a Miraval-Lenox "mindfulness" spa resort:
Accommodations: 148 rooms (up from current 105)
Investment: At least $30 million
New jobs: An estimated 100, in addition to current 120 full-time and 180 part-timers
Benefits to town: $1.1 million in sewer, water and other connection fees; $1.3 million a year in sales, property, lodging and meals taxes
Ownership: If approved by the Lenox ZBA, CRW Holdings, doing business as Miraval-Lenox, would be majority owner; Camp Group, LLC, the current majority owner, would be a minority partner
Target date: Mid-2019, following two years of construction and renovation
Details: Preserve and renovate the existing Mansion and Beecher's Cottage; construct a new, 53-room guest lodge; convert existing spa into a fitness and education building; construct a new spa; create a glass-enclosed conservatory dining room; reconfigure access road and parking; maintain 18-hole golf course and Sloane's Tavern, open to public; convert 10 guest rooms in existing cottages for employee housing; utility and fire-protection upgrades
Predicted traffic impact: Minimal
Property history: First developed in 1853 as a retreat for novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin;" in the 1920s, used as the Berkshire Hunt and Country Club, then a boys prep school that closed in 1975. In 1993, Cranwell was renovated into a resort and golf course
What's Next: Lenox ZBA meeting, 7 p.m. Aug. 3 at Town Hall