LENOX -- A $3 million project to renovate the 5.5-acre Haddad Toyota site on Pittsfield Road has won swift, unanimous approval from the town's Zoning Board of Appeals.

The project adds 10 service bays to meet customer demand fueled by the automaker's free five-service program for new vehicles and strong used car sales, said dealership owner George L. Haddad, while modernizing the facility as sought by Toyota's national design standards.

"We strive pretty hard for a good experience in the dealership," Haddad told the ZBA members. "We want to improve this facility." He noted that an approved expansion in 2006 did not move forward because the company focused on its purchase of Pete's Motors on East Street in Pittsfield, allowing the development of separate stores for Hyundai and Subaru sales and service.

The Lenox dealership is selling 100 vehicles and servicing 2,000 a month, Haddad said. He plans to add 10 jobs in service and several in sales to the current staff of 80 full-timers in Lenox, and 50 employees in Pittsfield. The Lenox site's annual payroll is nearly $6 million, Haddad stated, with another $3 million in Pittsfield.

During a 50-minute public hearing on Wednesday night, the Haddad family's G & L Realty, LLC, owner of the property on the Route 7 & 20 commercial strip, sought modification of a 1987 special permit for two additions to its existing building totaling 5,625 square feet and a new, covered entryway to conform with the automaker's standard design for its dealers. The building is currently 30,350 square feet.

New signage also was requested along with required approval of the overall site plan. With one of the five board members missing, a 4-0 "yes" vote was required for the project to move forward.

Representing Haddad, attorney Philip Heller of Heller & Robbins noted that the business had won approval in 2006 for signs exceeding the maximum allowed by town bylaws. The project's new signage is reduced from the previously approved special permit; modernized, more efficient LED lighting will reduce off-site impact, and parking areas will retain the same number of spaces.

The dealership is "an important employer, tax generator and revenue-producer," said Heller. "It will help the tax base in the community." He described the project as consistent with the town's master plan seeking to diversify economic activity beyond tourism.

According to auto dealership specialist James Mullarkey of Curtis Architecture & Design in Ottumwa, Iowa, the alterations create "a contemporary, upmarket look."

Appearing in support of Haddad, Toyota Motor Sales regional market planning manager Pete Lebish described the upgrade as a customer-convenience project.

"In the years they've been dealers for Toyota, they've been fantastic," said Lebish, referring to the three-generation Haddad family ownership which started selling the brand in 1970.

Summarizing the project, Rob Hoogs of Foresight Land Services in Great Barrington cited improved efficiency, lighting, drainage and traffic flow on the property.

"We believe it meets all the standards for site plan approval and the criteria for special permit approval," said Hoogs.

"I think it's been very carefully laid-out, it makes sense to me because it will improve the property," said ZBA member Ned Douglas. "It will be better for the town of Lenox."

"It's good for the building, for the business, the neighborhood and customers," said ZBA Chairman Ethan Berg. "It does seem as if you're virtually entitled to it."

The board voted 4-0 to approve the requested special permits as well as the site plan.

During the meeting, Berg noted that a scheduled public hearing on hotel developer Joseph Toole's proposed Courtyard by Marriott project at Brushwood Farms has been postponed until Jan. 8 so five ZBA members could participate.

To contact Clarence Fanto:

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