LENOX

The owners of the historic Spring Lawn property adjacent to Shakespeare & Company have launched an ambitious development plan that would transform the 28.8-acre site -- formerly a part of the theater's property -- into a major high-end "boutique resort."

The preliminary proposal includes a hotel complex with potential development of up to 95 rooms, 75 of them in small-scaled, residential-type cottages spread over the 10 Kemble St. site; a 75-seat restaurant and 20 guest rooms in the main mansion; 133 parking spaces; and a fitness center and spa in the property's carriage house.

A 200-foot buffer area would isolate the resort from neighboring residential properties. Minimal traffic impact is anticipated, according to the plan.

The Spring Lawn mansion’s ornate staircase.
The Spring Lawn mansion’s ornate staircase. (Courtesy photo)

The cost of the two-phase, 14-building project is estimated at $15 million to $20 million, said property co-owner James C. Jurney Jr.

His father, James C. Jurney Sr., purchased the site from the theater in July 2005 for $3.9 million with the goal of creating a resort.

Under a 2009 zoning variance, resorts are permitted within designated Estate Preservation Areas within the low-density residential zone, with restrictions that include limits on music and noise.

The Jurney family, owners incorporated as 10 Kemble LLC, have partnered with investors to see the special permit by the Zoning Board of Appeals as an Estate Preservation Area under town bylaws. The application was filed by Spring Lawn GP LLC, based in Charleston, S.C.

"In the past year we've been fortunate to have found equity partners who share our vision for a thriving and elegant resort, and now we're ready to get to work," Jurney Jr. said.

He described town management, planners, committees, local businesses, residents and neighbors as "nothing short of cheerleaders for us during this entire long process. Sometimes we feel like we've let the town down by not getting to this point sooner, but hopefully everyone will understand these delays."

An informational meeting will be held by the Planning Board on Tuesday, Nov. 12. The ZBA, which has jurisdiction, will review the project, possibly on Nov. 20.

The first phase of development would complete restoration of the Spring Lawn mansion at 10 Kemble St. and its nearby carriage house. Two adjacent dilapidated houses would be razed.

Phase two would involve construction of guest cottages clustered down a steep hill from the mansion. The resort would be screened off from the street and neighboring homes by landscaping.

Overall, 87 percent of the property would remain as open space, including walking trails and a skating pond.

The Spring Lawn Master Plan outlines numerous restrictions to comply with Estate Preservation Area requirements.

The Spring Lawn mansion foyer as it appeared around 1900.
The Spring Lawn mansion foyer as it appeared around 1900. (Courtesy photo)

"The redevelopment of Spring Lawn will bring substantial benefit to the town," according to the lavishly illustrated, 72-page proposal on file at Town Hall.

"The careful and respectful approach will help accomplish the town's goals for an economically successful, environmentally sound and culturally vibrant community," the application states. "Creative reuse of the estate will help create jobs and tax revenue for Lenox by leveraging the value of tourism."

The developers declared that rather than attract transient tourists, they seek guests who return annually and engage with the community.

"The restoration of the estate will widen public access to and appreciation of Lenox's Gilded Age cultural legacy," the plan emphasizes, while preserving open space.

"The most important buildings on the property will be reused in a way that is restorative of their unique architectural heritage and respectful of the historic uses of the estate as a whole," the applicants stated.

Initial rehabilitation requires state approval and must comply with standards set by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

If the project wins Zoning Board approval, a one-year timeline is expected for completion of phase one. Further development would be "totally dependent on market conditions and would not begin until the resort is open for business," said Jurney.

Management would include the Jurneys as well as investor-partner Rob Coakley of New York City, a Lenox native and son of local resident Robert M. Coakley. The Jurneys live at 30 Kemble St., part of the Spring Lawn property known as Clipston Grange. The project manager is Josh Martin of Turnberry Consulting U.S., based in Washington, D.C.

Jurney said the family plans to retain its residence but will sell the rest of the property to the partnership while maintaining a minority share of the Spring Lawn company.

The special permit applications follow required approvals from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and setback variances for the mansion and carriage house.

The state was involved because the DCR, formerly the Department of Environmental Management, had purchased a Historic Preservation Conservation Restriction on the 15 northern acres of the property in 2000 from Shakespeare and Company for $500,000.

The restriction confined use of the property to "residential or cultural, theatrical, performing arts purposes and related educational activities" but it was modified by the state to allow a resort.

The DCR document also required restoration of the mansion and carriage house and gave the state the right to approve all work on the property.

Progress also was delayed, as Jurney, Jr., put it, because "the economy withered, the financial markets soured and my father's health deteriorated."

But the family has spent about $2.5 million in restoration and infrastructure improvements on the mansion and carriage house, including new roofs, chimneys, stucco, paint, significant foundation work and patio restoration as well as new electrical, water, drainage and sewer lines.

Spring Lawn is part of the site that has housed the Lenox School for Boys, the Bible Speaks religious institution, the short-lived National Music Center and, for the past 14 years, Shakespeare and Company.

James Jurney Jr., 43, and Gwendolyn Jurney, 42, own Groupe 16sur20, a New York City clothing company with retail boutiques in Manhattan and Los Angeles under the brand name Seize sur Vingt.

A native of Myrtle Beach, S.C., he has degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the London School of Economics and was a vice president of Morgan Stanley & Co. in New York. Gwen Jurney, a native of New Bedford and a graduate of Rutgers University, worked as an interior designer before starting the clothing business in 1998.

Jurney Jr. has chaired the Lenox Historical Commission and has been a member of the Community Preservation Committee.

Jurney Sr., 85, is a former lawyer and diplomat who owns motels and other businesses in Myrtle Beach.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto

What's next ...

The Lenox Planning Board will hold an informational meeting about the project at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12. The Zoning Board of Appeals, which has jurisdiction, will review the project, possibly on Nov. 20.

Timeline: Spring Lawn property

1800 (circa): The Sedgwick family opens a "cottage" called The Hive.

1900: New York rail and shipping magnate John Alexandre buys the Spring Lawn Estate, demolishes The Hive and develops his own "summer cottage" (the mansion) and carriage house combining 18th century Italian, French and English architectural styles. The mansion is an American version of Beaux-Arts Classicism.

1929: Spring Lawn is sold to the Schermerhorn family of New York real estate fame. They rename it Schermeer.

1957: The property is donated to the Lenox School for Boys, and the mansion is renamed Schermerhorn Hall and used as office space.

1972: The Lenox School closes.

1976: The controversial Bible Speaks, an evangelical Christian order, purchases the property, using it as a revival camp and home base for more than 1,000 residents until 1987.

1987: The property is purchased by Elizabeth Dovydenas for $1.8 million.

1993: The National Music Foundation acquires the site for $2.1 million, aiming but failing to open the National Music Foundation, a projected retirement community for musicians.

1999: Shakespeare & Company purchases the property for $4.1 million and two years later opens in the Spring Lawn Theater in the mansion.

2000: The state Department of Conservation and Recreation purchases a $500,000 historic preservation restriction on 15 acres of the property from Shakespeare & Company.

2005: Spring Lawn is acquired from Shakespeare & Company by James Jurney Sr. for $3.9 million.

2010: Approval for use of the property as a resort, with conditions and restrictions, is granted by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

2013: The Jurney family partners with investor-developers to launch the resort complex, subject to town board approval.

-- Clarence Fanto