LENOX -- After eight years of delay, an ambitious, two-phase plan to transform the 29-acre Spring Lawn property into a 95-room high-end resort has taken a giant step forward.
By a 4-0 vote, the town's Zoning Board of Appeals approved the master plan for the project presented by the property owners, James Jurney, his son James Jurney, Jr. and his wife, Gwen Jurney, through a partnership that includes Lenox native Rob Coakley. The final cost of development is estimated at $15 million to $20 million.
The green light -- which required a unanimous vote since one ZBA member was sidelined by injury -- came on Wednesday night following a second presentation by the developers' attorney, John Gobel of Gobel & Hollister in Pittsfield. The ZBA had toured the site on Dec. 8 following a first hearing of the proposal on Dec. 4.
"I feel great, it's been a long haul," said Gwen Jurney. "We're really excited and very happy."
"I'm very relieved," added James Jurney, Jr. "We were very nervous. This is the biggest step for the project so far."
Detailed site plans for phase one -- creation of a 20-room inn and a 75-seat public restaurant at the historic Spring Lawn mansion -- should be completed within six months, he said.
Gobel emphasized that before any work begins, the developers would return to town boards for approval of the site plans for the mansion and for the nearby carriage house, to be renovated into a spa, and for the additional 75 rooms in a dozen low-rise buildings. The property adjoins Shakespeare & Company and was purchased by the Gurneys from the theater company for $3.9 million in 2005.
The attorney sought ZBA agreement that the site plans would gain approval as long as they conform with the overall master plan. He noted that a legally binding agreement would be filed, following review by town counsel, to conserve the mansion's historic character once it is fully restored..
Under questioning by Acting Chairman Robert Fuster, Gobel contended that no additional traffic studies would be needed. The developers' already-submitted report indicated no adverse impact on public roads.
But Fuster argued that the ZBA should have the ability to request additional traffic studies and peer review of the final site plans.
But Gobel responded that "we would like to be able to know that when we come back the next time, we're not going to have to start over again. The way to make this viable is to get approval for the overall project and then go ahead and do it in two steps -- 20 rooms in the mansion, and then the 75."
Town Planner Mary Albertson commented that it "seems very reasonable" for the board to reserve the right to seek an independent peer review of the traffic study as well as potential erosion issues.
"Listen, I love the project," Fuster told Gobel, "but I have a concern about our ability later on to have a further site-plan review and perhaps a peer review when you come back with the other phases. I don't see how we could not do that, frankly."
Fuster won Gobel's agreement to add language to the ZBA's decision reserving the board's right to seek the additional reviews once site plans are completed.
In a series of 4-0 votes, the board promptly approved the developers' application to qualify the property as a Great Estate area, designate the mansion as a Great Estate inn, approve the combined use of the entire site as a resort, and approve special permits for amplified music subject to restrictions in a 2009 variance, and for a public restaurant within the mansion.
Finally, the comprehensive, two-phase master plan was granted unanimous approval by Fuster and board members Ned Douglas, Robert Fuster, Jr., and Jedd Hall, as long as the developers submit specific details that conform with that plan and agree to further reviews if the board requires them.
"I think for the town of Lenox, this is going to be a very beneficial investment of time, energy and money, and I hope it comes to fruition," said Hall, who was on the zoning board in 2005, told the development team.
Fuster described the project's outline as "fabulous," told Gobel his presentation was "terrific," and voiced appreciation for the "very worthwhile" detailed material submitted to the board. "It was readable, it made sense, and everything was here," he enthused. "You made our job much, much easier and more pleasant."
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