LENOX -- Discussions are underway aimed at preventing foreclosure of a landmark farm and stable, as well as protecting the property from potential high-density development.
The multi-million dollar Undermountain Farm and Stables, and the adjacent Sprague family mansion, have been under financial pressure. The mansion faces a possible foreclosure by the Texas mortgage holder that had been seeking a $400,000 "balloon" payment on the property with an original Sept. 30 deadline.
But while financing negotiations continue, family spokesman Kevin Sprague said, VFC Partners of Waco, Texas -- which acquired the mortgage from Bank of America several years ago -- has offered some breathing room by extending the deadline and declining, so far, to take further steps toward formal foreclosure proceedings.
Although the 157-acre properties at 399 and 400 Undermountain Road -- including the mansion, farm, stables and other structures -- are not listed with a real estate broker, Sprague said, "we're open to offers or discussions."
"We've received inquiries from a variety of people in terms of a long-term resolution," Sprague said this week in a phone interview.
"We've had very positive, fruitful talks with many neighbors," he said.
The goal is to maintain the current use of the property, Sprague emphasized, rather than market it to potential developers who could turn a portion of the residentially zoned land into a subdivision-style development.
Some form of state-subsidized agricultural preservation restriction on the land could be a partial solution, and the Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC) has been included in what Sprague described as a "very preliminary" discussion.
"We have met with members of the Sprague family and talked to them about goals for the property," said Tad Ames, president of the BNRC.
The Pittsfield-based non-profit organization was established in 1957 to preserve threatened lands, with a special emphasis on farms, forests, streams and ridge lines. Currently, the council owns and manages 7,999 acres and protects an additional 10,011 acres through conservation restrictions.
Ames confirmed that the council is working with the Spragues "to see if we can figure out a way to structure a conservation transaction. It's very early in the process."
According to Ames, "the Spragues have a sincere love for that beautiful open land and would like their legacy in Lenox to include conservation of those acres. We'll do our best to work with them and the community to see if we can achieve that outcome."
He acknowledged that "it's a beloved landmark, a family who's cared for this land for many decades and most often we work with families in a very quiet way, so this is an unusual situation."
Ames stressed that "it is too early to discuss the nature of any conservation transaction that might occur. ... It's a very interesting, challenging project to work on so we're really at the due diligence phase now."
Asked about a timeline, he responded that "we're trying not to let any grass grow under our feet. We're not privy to the ins and outs of particular circumstances in the family but we don't want to sit on our hands for weeks and months on this."
On the other hand, he asserted, "We want to move deliberately and efficiently on this. We don't want to be hasty, that's when errors are made."
The foreclosure notice filed by VFC Partners applied to the mansion and its 11 acres at 399 Undermountain Road, home of Peter J. and Tjasa Sprague. The property was purchased in 1973.
During a September interview with The Eagle, Kevin Sprague stated that "my parents have sacrificed a great amount of their treasure to maintain it the way it is. I've been interested for decades in doing the right thing by that property, as much as one can."
He also noted that his parents, in their mid-70s, and other family members no longer have the financial resources to maintain and manage the property. The Sprague Family Trust includes Peter J., Tjasa and their four sons, Carl, Steven, Kevin and Michael.
According to Town Hall records, the Sprague mansion on 11.45 acres has an assessed valuation of $1,663,500, with a yearly tax bill of $29,431. The farm, stable and structures occupying 145 acres on the other side of Undermountain Road are assessed at $1,040,280, with $22,487 in annual property taxes.
But the Assessor's Office records note that a portion of the farm used as pasture and to cultivate hay is assessed and taxed at a discounted rate under state law that provides a break for designated agricultural uses.
Peter J. and Tsaja Sprague recently bought a home at 55 Kemble St. for $345,000. As Kevin Sprague explained, "at some point my parents would transition to the new residence." The gate house, known as Shady Gate, was part of the original Ventfort Hall property.
Kevin Sprague is also relocating in Lenox and he made it clear that he remains committed to the Berkshires as his home base and as headquarters for Studio Two, his web branding design firm.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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