LENOX >> A developer's drive for swift approval of a $30 million expansion and renovation of Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort has hit a temporary speed bump at the zoning board.
During a two-hour public hearing at Town Hall on Wednesday night, the ZBA, which has final say over the proposal following a "due diligence" review, heard representatives of adjacent Cranwell condominium residents question whether their access to the facility's amenities would continue as they challenged potential obstructions to current scenic vistas.
Acting ZBA Chairwoman Shawn Leary Considine drew a road map of questions for leaders of the Miraval Resort Group to address during an Aug. 11 site visit and an Aug. 29 resumption of the public hearing.
She listed landscaping issues, the importance of preserving the view of the historic Cranwell Mansion from Route 20, and a balloon test to check the height of the most significant new construction proposed by Miraval — a three-story, 45-foot high, 53-room guest cottage.
Leary Considine also cited questions about "internal access" on the property and whether current resort services available by membership to the outside community would be maintained.
Miraval, operating locally as CRW Holdings LLC, proposes to transform the property into a world-class "mindfulness" spa and resort. The project has been endorsed by the Lenox Planning Board in an advisory letter to the zoning board.
The application seeks to modify Cranwell's existing special permit to add 43 rooms to the current total of 108 by building the guest cottage and eliminating 10 existing hotel rooms elsewhere on the site.
A new spa and related facilities would be built, the existing Mansion would be refurbished and, if the state approves, a tunnel would be constructed under the highway halfway between the Cranwell main entrance and Blantyre Road to connect a portion of the golf course to the rest of the resort.
Pittsfield attorney F. Sydney Smithers, representing Miraval, described plans to rehabilitate the property because of "deferred maintenance" in recent years.
Despite assurances by Miraval leaders that Lenox residents would continue to have access to the public golf course and outdoor swimming pool, several skeptics sharply questioned the developers over access to the tennis courts, spa, fitness center, and dining facilities. They also questioned the impact of a security gate to be installed at the Route 20 entrance.
Describing Cranwell as a "jewel," Alan Milbauer, chairman of the Fairwynds Trust Unit Community, representing some of the adjacent condo residents, pointed out that homeowners who moved in 17 years ago have expected "that we would be able to avail ourselves of the access to all that Cranwell had to offer, and for essentially all that time, we were able to do that. It's been a marvelous, marvelous experience."
But in recent years, he contended the property had become "tired" because of what he described as declines in service, rooms and food quality.
"We, as owners in the area, were not thrilled about that and wondered what would happen," Milbauer said.
Although he praised Miraval for the quality of its existing Tucson resort and acknowledged that the Lenox presentation had been "very professional," Milbauer described "some reservations, not about the quality" but about "whether Miraval's relationship with its neighbors would be preserved."
He questioned whether the condo group would enjoy continued use of the amenities and voiced concern over the new guest cottage.
He worried that some homeowners would be looking at the cottage rather than "a view of the Mansion and the sweeping lawns." He suggested that a two-story, elongated building would be preferable.
"How we can have a win-win for Miraval, for the town and for ourselves?" he asked.
David Abramson, a representative of the Fairwynds II townhouses on the property, backed the project but expressed qualms about the new security gate proposed for the Route 20 entrance that might delay residents' access to their homes. Currently, he noted, "we just drive in."
Fairwynds II townhouse owner Warren Widmann conceded that Miraval had offered "a beautiful presentation that had to be prepared well in advance" but complained strongly about "very, very short notice" about the proposal. Despite "much progress" at a meeting with the developer on Wednesday, he questioned "how the board can consider a plan that was circulated and now altered without any of us having time to digest it."
He likened the resort plan to a "fortress with a moat, with gating and internal covered walkways which restrict our access up." He also stated that "we learned today that children under 16 are not allowed onto this private community."
Widmann said proposal documents show that the spa and fitness center "would be for the exclusive use of Miraval and we haven't received in writing any contrary information."
Leary Considine, the hearing chairwoman, pointed out that proper notice had been provided to Cranwell abutters and noted that the project applicant would continue to work with the community. ZBA member Robert Fuster, Sr., emphasized that the detailed application and plans for the project have been available at Town Hall for the past five weeks.
"We are concerned about neighbors, internal and external, who may not be happy with the project," Leary Considine commented, adding that town counsel would be consulted on whether a 200-foot buffer requirement exists on the property to separate condo and townhouse owners from new construction.
If the plan ultimately wins approval by the Zoning Board of Appeals, construction would begin next year with a goal of opening Miraval/Lenox in 2019. CRW Holdings would assume majority ownership from Camp Group LLC, which bought the property from the Burack family for $18 million 13 months ago.
Once operating, the resort would generate $1.3 million in real estate, sales and lodging taxes for the town, said Miraval Group CEO and president Steven A. Rudnitsky, following a onetime, $1.1 million payment for sewer, water and other utility connection fees.
"We would love to get zoning board approval as soon as possible," he said.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
What's Next. . .
As the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals continues its review of the Miraval Group's expansion proposal for the Cranwell Resort and Golf Course, here are the next scheduled events:
Thursday, Aug. 11, 4 p.m.: ZBA site visit to Cranwell, open to the public. Those attending will convene at the Mansion.
Monday, Aug. 29, 7 p.m. ZBA public hearing continues, Lenox Town Hall Auditorium. Additional public comments will be heard prior to a potential decision on whether to approve the project.