LENOX -- It may not qualify for red-carpet treatment just yet, but there seems to be a welcome mat out for the proposal to relocate the proposed 92-room, four-story Courtyard by Marriott hotel project from Pittsfield's Dan Fox Drive to vacant land on the Brushwood Farms retail complex across from Lenox Commons.
Several town leaders and inn owners contacted by The Eagle agree that Pittsfield's loss would be Lenox's gain -- if the project is approved by the town's zoning board -- since the Marriott could feed into the town coffers more than $400,000 a year in real estate and lodging-tax revenue.
The formal plan will be presented by attorney Philip Heller of the local firm Heller & Robbins at an informational Planning Board session at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Town Hall. The Zoning Board of Appeals, which has ultimate authority, is slated to take it up on at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18.
A purchase-and-sale agreement on the site, which has a Route 7 & 20 traffic signal and access driveway, has been entered between the land owner, June F. Hashim, and Brushwood Nominee Trust, the developers of the Marriott project.
While the identity of the partners has not been publicly confirmed, Joseph Toole is widely believed to be among them, since it's his Marriott project that's being moved from Dan Fox Drive in Pittsfield to the proposed Lenox location.
Members of the Select Board, stressing that they are not trying to influence a zoning board decision, offered a preliminary thumbs-up.
"Somebody was going to develop Brushwood Farms anyway," said Selectman Ed Lane. He said the additional tax revenue would get a warm welcome at Town Hall.
"It's a good use for the property," Select Board Chairman David Roche said. "We are a tourist destination, so if the research shows occupancy can support another hotel, I'd certainly personally be favor of it. That property can't stay vacant forever. My comfort level is reasonably high since Joe Toole has been successful, a good neighbor to the town, and I would rather have somebody like him."
Roche acknowledged that "people like to see open space, but some day it's going to develop, and this would be better for the town than other uses that might crop up later. I have all the confidence that the Planning Board and the ZBA will come to the right conclusion."
Selectman John McNinch voiced some concern about the traffic impact of a major hotel on the highway. "That stretch of Routes 7 ad 20 is already tough. I'll be curious to see where this goes."
Selectman Kenneth Fowler maintained that "this sounds like the right thing to do for that piece of property. I'm all for it."
Although any major project requires scrutiny, he added, "I don't see why we shouldn't look at this closely and favorably. I hope we get good guidance from the town boards; that's their role."
"I've never been afraid of progress and development as long as it's in keeping with who are and what visitors want," said Fowler.
Selectman Channing Gibson, the board's liaison to the ZBA, said he would withhold comment until he has heard a formal presentation of the plan.
Lenox Commons owner Dave Ward of LD Builders is an enthusiastic supporter.
"With a Marriott across the street, it's a natural for our center," he said, noting that all available spaces in his complex have been leased.
He pointed out that Dr. Mark Hyman's Ultra Wellness Center at Lenox Commons attracts many out-of-town clients. "They're always looking for a place to stay, and this would be very convenient," said Ward. "I'd like to see it happen, it's a plus, a win-win for all of us."
Gateways Inn co-owner Eiran Gazit declared that "if Joe Toole is going to build a Marriott in the area, I'd rather it be in Lenox than Pittsfield. The town will benefit from extra taxes, and from that perspective, it's a good thing."
Gazit, an international hotel consultant, also cites the Marriott as a natural for group tourism, since only a handful of nearby properties such as Cranwell Resort and the Red Lion Inn can accommodate busloads of visitors.
"Most people who come to Lenox for a vacation are seeking the kind of experience that only a good-quality inn can provide," he said. "I don't think a cookie-cutter hotel is competition for us."
Assuming in-depth market research has identified a demand, Gazit declared that "in my view, this raises the property value of the inns already in Lenox."
But Richard Houdek, owner of Walker House in downtown Lenox for 34 years, contended that "there's just so much of the pie. I don't know that Marriott will bring any more people in."
Discussing inns that appeal to the middle class such as his, Houdek said, "our clientele is disappearing, they don't have the money to stay. Summer is when you've got to make it, winters are dead. Until we do something about the economy, I don't see the middle class being able to travel as much."
In his view, old-fashioned country charm and friendliness are less in vogue now. "The hotels will attract the kind of people who want whirlpools, big screen TVs on the wall, all the amenities a big hotel can offer, along with bonus points," he said.
Toole, who owns the Yankee Inn and Hampton Inn a mile north of the potential Marriott site, had indicated last June that because of legal and environmental complications that were delaying his Pittsfield project, he was scouting a potential site in Lenox.
The Hashims' Brushwood property, which dates to the 1780s, had been known as the Elizabeth Love Godwin estate. Godwin and her family were descendants of 19th-century poet, author and editor William Cullen Bryant, who was born and raised in Cummington.
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Resort developments along Routes 7 & 20 in Lenox:
August 2005: Joseph Toole of Toole Lodging Group announces plans for a Hampton Inn franchise behind his Yankee Inn on the Route 7 & 20 commercial strip.
October 2005: Hotel developers Vijay Mahida and Jeffrey LaBonte apply for a special permit to build a 92-room Courtyard by Marriott on the corner of Housatonic Street and Routes 7 and 20 on commercially zoned land owned by the Bartoni family. The estimated cost is $7.5 million. Earlier proposals that fell through for the undeveloped, 20-acre strip of land included a car dealership, a high-end outlet shopping center, a soccer stadium and a skating arena.
March 2006: Following months of controversy, the Lenox Zoning Board votes unanimously to deny a special permit for the Marriott project as 66 residents cheer. Board members deemed the project too big and noted its proximity to a residential area. Two months earlier, the town's Planning Board had declined to endorse the plan after the developer offered revised design proposals from a new architect.
May 2006: Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto welcomes a potential relocation of Mahida's Marriott proposal to South Street near Dan Fox Drive behind Guido's Fresh Marketplace. Mahida withdrew the idea in favor of renovating his Great Barrington Comfort Inn, but returned in April 2013 with his Hilton Gardens project at the same location.
July 2006: The Lenox Planning Board hears a preliminary proposal for a "mixed use" neighborhood at Brushwood Farms by a development team from New York's Capital District. The plan is withdrawn for unexplained reasons.
September 2006: The Lenox Zoning Board approves Joseph Toole's plan for a 79-room Hampton Inn on Routes 7 & 20.
April 2008: The Hampton Inn opens for business.
April 2008: Boston-area developers, working with Rob Akroyd's Greylock Design Associates in Lenox, outline a self-contained village, including a hotel, grocery store, restaurant, offices, retail spaces and 100-plus residents at the Brushwood Farms site. But the project fails to move forward as the recession deepens.
December 2013: Brushwood Farms Nominee Trust, a development group, unveils plans to build a 92-room Courtyard by Marriott across from Lenox Commons, relocating the project from its previous site on Dan Fox Drive in Pittsfield.
Source: Eagle archives.