STOCKBRIDGE -- The owner of a nonprofit educational foundation that holds seminars for university students wants to purchase the former home of the late Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick on Prospect Hill Road as a new headquarters that would adjoin his own second home here.
The plan presented to the Stockbridge Selectmen this week seeks approval of a use permit as required under town bylaws, said attorney Philip Heller of Heller & Robbins in Lenox. He represents the Tavitian Foundation and its president, Aso Tavitian of Woodcliff Lake, N.J., and Stockbridge.
The foundation's classes for students are currently held at Tavitian's Stockbridge home and at various universities, Heller told The Eagle on Wednesday. He said the purchase price of the Fitzpatrick property would exceed $2 million.
At Monday night's Select Board meeting, Heller cited the town bylaw requiring that before any use is permitted or sign erected, the applicant must file a proper form to be reviewed and signed by the Selectmen and the Planning Board, with final permission granted by the Selectmen.
"This is not a situation where we have discretion whether to do this or not," Heller stated, adding that the Planning Board has signed the application form.
Heller also cited the so-called Dover Amendment, part of a state law based on a 1950 case involving the Norfolk County town of Dover that allows a non-profit educational institution by right in any zone within a community. The Fitzpatrick property at 9 Prospect Hill Road is in a residential zone.
He explained that, according to the amendment, a zoning bylaw "cannot do anything to discriminate against a religious or educational not-for-profit institution" in the use of a property.
Heller cited a 1979 case in Lenox when the Bible Speaks, a religious order then occupying what is now Shakespeare & Company, sought to improve a playing field.
An appeals court overturned a town decision denying the application, ruling that the playing field was an "educational component" of the institute, Heller told the board, adding that parking garages and dormitories also have qualified as educational.
"Could you build a building as high as Trump Tower under the Dover Amendment?" Select Board Chairman Stephen Shatz inquired. "Yes," Heller, replied, "absolutely."
After Heller described any potential new building on the site as "highly unlikely," Shatz responded: "We need to be more certain than that it's highly unlikely."
Representing his mother Nancy Fitzpatrick and his aunt, Ann Fitzpatrick Brown, Casey Fitzpatrick told the board: "We would all be happy for Mr. Tavitian to bring his foundation here to this property. We feel that my grandparents, Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick, would be happy to know that he would be taking good care of their house and their land."
He added that "they would be happy to see someone continue in some way their philanthropic legacy" and to support the local organizations "that meant a lot to them."
Fitzpatrick quoted from a letter by his mother stating that "we're very pleased that Aso is interested in purchasing my mother's house. He's been a wonderful neighbor for a long time and is in a good position to maintain and improve this important, historic property. Mr. Tavitian's proposed use would not conflict with the residential character of the neighborhood."
"The Fitzpatrick family knows and trusts Aso," the letter continued. "We're pleased that he wants to deepen his connections to Stockbridge by locating his foundation next to his own house on Prospect Hill."
"The Tavitian Foundation has a contract to buy the property held in trust for the Fitzpatrick family for a very, very high price," Heller told the Selectmen, "and frankly the foundation is not going to move forward to buy the property unless they have some sanction by the town that the use is permitted under the bylaw."
Tavitian seeks to move the foundation's administrative offices to the Fitzpatricks' Stockbridge property, with four or five employees and a small classroom accommodating 12 to 15 students.
"Our position is that those uses combined are a 100 percent educational use for this property," Heller said.
He listed 10 parking spaces for employees and visitors, cited employment opportunities, and called it "a very low-impact use ... a really good way to preserve a nice piece of property and a good use for the community."
Planned improvements include restoration, renovation and upgrades for the main building, but there would be no new construction other than minor additions to the house that are "tasteful and in keeping with the property," said Heller.
He told the Selectmen that if they find, based on the presentation and documentation provided, that the foundation is a nonprofit educational institute, "we're entitled to signing of the use permit, and not only that -- your bylaws require it."
Responding to a question from Shatz, Heller asserted the foundation would have "no other use but educational in character we're 100 percent."
The Selectmen will conduct a site visit to the Fitzpatrick property and seek opinions from neighbors before their next scheduled meeting on Jan. 6.
"We've not reached any conclusions," Shatz said. "We just need to understand what you're proposing to do and to understand the implications for this neighborhood."
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