PITTSFIELD -- The developer of a 95-room Hilton Garden Inn off South Street has negotiated an easement allowing a second driveway to the 2.4-acre site -- a move that could potentially defuse traffic concerns and a lawsuit that have been looming over the project.
Attorneys representing developer Vijaysinh N. Mahida and his Prem Management Inc. said Friday the easement allows use of an existing driveway on the north side of the Guido's Fresh Marketplace parking lot that extends uphill to the site of Pittsfield Rye Bakery -- there connecting to the hotel site.
The hotel site at 1032-34 South St. is the former site of Dr. Lahey's Garden Center and is about 270 feet west of South Street (Route 7), to the rear of the Guido's parcel.
The easement comes as Prem Management's use of a 40-foot-wide access way to the south of the Guido's lot is being contested in a lawsuit at Berkshire Superior Court. The action was filed by Eastern States Real Estate Management, LLC, a corporate entity with ties to rival hotel developer Joseph M. Toole that owns another parcel along the common accessway.
"I am very thankful to my neighbors and very excited to bring this hotel project forward," Mahida said.
The timetable, he said, now calls for financing to be finalized over the winter and for construction to begin in the spring. An opening in early 2015 is planned.
Attorney Thomas Hamel, of Martin, Oliveira & Hamel, whose firm has represented Mahida and Prem Management, said Friday that while waiting for the suit to be resolved, Mahida "began to consider other options." One option, he said, was to enter discussions with the owners of the bakery business and Guido's, both of whom have been supporters of the hotel project.
The easement will include considerations for the two businesses, he said, and a maintenance agreement for the newly secured access driveway.
Hamel said the state Department of Transportation will be notified of the change, but he doesn't believe a review or additional approvals are required, as state curb cut approvals are on file for both accessways.
The second access represents an "end run" around the lawsuit, said William E. Martin, of Martin, Oliveira & Hamel, who is representing Prem Management in the suit.
"Mr. Toole thinks he has a roadblock" to the Hilton site in the lawsuit, Martin said. But eventual dismissal of the suit -- which Martin said he is confident will occur -- allows "us to go over him," while the easement "allows us to go around him," he said.
Martin said a hearing on his motion for a summary dismissal of the suit is scheduled for Jan. 9. He termed the suit without merit because the hotel project is a permitted use in the business zone and necessary access permits have been obtained, "but I also suspect a frivolous appeal could be filed as well," he said.
Contacted Friday, Toole declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying he is an investor in Eastern States but has not closely followed the progress of the suit in court.
Toole's development company, Toole Lodging Group Inc., plans a 92-room Courtyard Marriott hotel nearby at 21 Dan Fox Drive. However, the Marriott project sustained a setback last month when the state Department of Environmental Protection overturned a wetlands-related work permit issued by the city after an appeal from members of a local environmental group.
Toole said Friday he has filed a request for an appeal of the DEP decision.
While the second driveway to the Hilton site would not have become a reality without the lawsuit, "it absolutely will" improve traffic flow in and out of the Hilton site, Martin said.
Hamel said no traffic lights or exit restrictions, such as against left-hand turns from the driveways, are deemed necessary or required to meet permitting requirements.
Gerald Garner, Pittsfield's building commissioner, confirmed this week that a building permit was issued for the four-story, 64,148-square-foot Hilton project, which is estimated in the design plans as costing $8,162,540.
An earlier permit from the city allowed site work and improvements to the access drive to be undertaken. That driveway is the subject of the lawsuit.
Hamel said an agreement that would transfer the liquor license from the owner of the Groove Lounge on Wendell Avenue Extension to the hotel developer will go before the city Licensing Board later this month, along with a request for a common victualer license.
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