PITTSFIELD -- A building permit issued by the city for a Hilton Garden Inn off South Street has drawn an appeal from the owner of a nearby hotel.
Attorney John R. Gobel, representing the Desai family and Somnath Inc., which operates the Comfort Inn at 1055 South St., has revealed that his client is appealing the Hilton building permit. Parking and other permit issues are expected to be the topic during a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Nov. 20, he said.
City Planner C.J. Hoss said Tuesday that the situation is similar to when a building permit was issued this year for a Dollar General store in Sheffield and an appeal was later mounted to the town zoning board. The primary issue for the Pittsfield ZBA, Hoss said, will be "does it [the permit procedure] meet the zoning requirements or not?"
The appeal mentions parking issues and procedural aspects in the issuance of the permit, Hoss said, adding that his office will ask for clarification on the latter issue while developing a recommendation for the ZBA.
A building permit for the 95-room Hilton project off 1032 South St. -- developed by Vijaysinh N. Mahida and Prem Management Inc. -- was issued last month by the city inspection department. Building Commissioner Gerald Garner said Tuesday: "We did everything completely and we issued the permit. But if he wants to challenge it, that is within his rights."
Plans call for a four-story hotel, which is estimated in the design plans to cost $8,162,540. The hotel site is a 2.4-acre parcel located behind Guido's Fresh Marketplace.
The permit appeal came to light Monday during a Pittsfield Licensing Board meeting, which dealt with a liquor license Mahida hopes to secure for the Hilton restaurant.
Gobel, representing the owners of the Comfort Inn, cited a lack of an actual hotel building and the project's potential adverse traffic impact as reasons for the Licensing Board to deny Mahida's request to transfer a license to the proposed restaurant.
"It's premature as there is insufficient information that there is a need for a license at that site," said Gobel, of Gobel & Hollister.
Mahida's attorney, Thomas Hamel, of Martin, Oliveira & Hamel, said the board, by state law, can approve the transfer before the building is complete -- withholding actual issuance of the license until the hotel is ready for occupancy.
Hamel added that opposition to the liquor license transfer is merely the latest attempt to derail his client's project.
"We have an owner of the Comfort Inn who doesn't want us to build, the owner [Joseph M. Toole] of the Hampton Inn who doesn't want to see us build ... Gobel's client just wants us to go away," Hamel told the Licensing Board.
The board continued deliberations on the liquor license transfer for two months, hoping the city zoning board has ruled on the appeal filed by Gobel by December.
In May, Gobel filed an appeal of a preliminary building permit for the Hilton project's foundation and site work on behalf of the Somnath Inc. and the Dasais. That appeal to the building department was denied and the preliminary site work was completed.
Comfort Inn owner Mauer Desai has detailed his concerns in a letter sent to city councilors. He cited a "small lot with a slender opening from Routes 7 and 20" as a major issue, referring to the driveway from the highway into the Hilton project site. He said a hotel of that size will greatly exacerbate traffic congestion along the commercial strip.
Since a hotel is a "by-right" use in the Route 7 zoning district, site plan review, which might address traffic and other issues, is not required. Hamel has 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.
The challenges to the Hilton project referred to by Hamel have been referred to as part of the "hotel wars" legal skirmishes involving three hotel operators and two large projects. Toole and his Toole Lodging Group propose a 92-room Courtyard Marriott near the Hilton site at 21 Dan Fox Drive.
Toole has ties to a corporate entity that purchased a small parcel this spring along the 270-foot right-of-way leading to the Hilton site and is challenging the use of the driveway in a Superior Court lawsuit. Mahida's attorneys at Martin, Oliveira & Hamel have termed the suit a frivolous attempt to block the Hilton project. The developer now plans to build the hotel next year and open in 2015 -- about a year later than originally planned.
Mahida also recently announced he has obtained an easement from his neighbors for a second entrance driveway along the north side of the Guido's site, saying that could circumvent the aim of the lawsuit and at the same time improve traffic flow around the hotel.
Toole's Marriott project also has been stalled by an appeal of a wetlands-related work permit to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The appeal by several local environmentalists was upheld by the DEP and Toole said he will appeal. He had obtained all required permits from the city prior to the appeal decision.
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