LENOX -- The Zoning Board of Appeals is evaluating a revised plan for a Courtyard by Marriott hotel on a portion of the Brushwood Farms property off Routes 7 and 20.

At a two-hour hearing attended by more than 50 residents on Wednesday night, developer Joseph M. Toole offered a redesign with New England-style façade embellishments.

Based on Planning Board feedback, Toole said, "We've created a new, improved façade that incorporates the same design elements that exist in the neighborhood, to try to make the building work within the environment."

"From the start," he stressed, "our mission has been to create a hotel that would be economically viable but also utilize low-impact, environmentally sensitive design." Toole said the hotel's "footprint" only will occupy 5.3 percent of the total 6.68-acre parcel he purchased from Brushwood Farms owner June F. Hashim. She retains the remaining 68 acres of the site.

Public sentiment leans in favor of the project.

So far, 11 letters of support have been received by the board, with six opposed. Of nine speakers commenting at the hearing, four were in favor, two opposed and two mixed.

Further design modifications are being evaluated, Toole told The Eagle on Thursday.

The ZBA will resume its hearing at 7:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 22. Ultimately, the board has the final say on whether or not the $10 million, 92-room hotel project goes forward.

At the ZBA's request, the Planning Board will review the modified design during its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The height of the proposed four-story facility is 48.6 feet to the unoccupied parapet and the roof.

But Toole's attorney, Philip Heller of Heller & Robbins, emphasized that the majority of the building tops out at 43.4 feet. Toole's Brushwood Farms Nominee Trust seeks an exemption from the town's bylaw limiting building heights to 35 feet.

Heller said zoning bylaws have allowed such waivers since 1970. Several projects have received them, including the Devonshire senior complex, Canyon Ranch, Cranwell Resort and a condo apartment building downtown.

Located in a commercial zone, a hotel is allowed if the zoning board grants a special permit. The developer is seeking other special permits relating to parking, signs, a height waiver and overall site plan approval.

The application is based on requirements of the commercial zone rather than those of the Gateway Overlay District, which includes non-mandatory suggestions for development along the state highway directly north of downtown Lenox, Heller said.

Heller emphasized that only 4 percent of the land in Lenox is zoned commercial, "so when we have an opportunity to have a high-quality project, we really need to seriously consider the economic impact."

Noting multiple written objections from attorney William E. Martin, representing rival developer Vijaysingh Mahida, Heller asserted that Toole's project bears no comparison to Mahida's Marriott proposal for a site two miles south of Brushwood Farms, rejected in 2006 by the ZBA. The attorney described that location as adjacent to a "highly dense residential neighborhood with two subdivisions in the immediate area."

Martin, who was in the audience on Wednesday night, did not speak, though he filed additional opposing documents just before the meeting.

Toole highlighted a positive economic impact for the town's tourism-based economy because the Marriott would "expand the market, not cannibalize it," based on market research showing a similar effect for his nearby Hampton Inn & Suites, where annual room occupancy exceeds 75 percent, one of the highest figures in the area.

"Lenox wants to become a four-season community," Toole said, "and this project, I feel, is right on the money."

He also listed financial benefits for the town, including a one-time fee exceeding $400,000 for connecting the hotel to town sewer and water lines, $300,000 a year in room occupancy taxes, $80,000 in real estate taxes annually and $40,000 a year in water and sewer usage fees. A $1 million annual payroll at the hotel is anticipated, Toole added.

Project architect Anthony Mussachio, whose firm designed the Hampton, detailed techniques to minimize the building's impact by sinking it 15 feet into the site and outlined design revisions, de-emphasizing its previous contemporary approach in favor of enhancing a look in line with "the nature of the region, the environment and the community."

Under the revision presented Wednesday night, Marriott's original hotel prototype was "drastically modified," he said, "to come up with a much more New England-style and a more rural-looking direction of the design. ... We've taken extraordinary measures to minimize the scale of the building itself relative to the site and to complement the existing surroundings and the community itself."

Other points made by the development team:

- Extensive tree plantings, shrubbery and other landscaping enhancements will help shield much of the building from motorists on the state highway, said landscape architect Rob Akroyd of Greylock Design.

- The site plan, utilities and infrastructure are low-impact, environmentally designed with no adverse impact, according to Steve Mack of Foresight Land Services.

- A supplemental traffic study supplied by traffic engineer Juliet Locke shows the hotel would not trigger negative effects on traffic flow, the pedestrian-controlled signal crossing at the entrance or on a nearby intersection, even during the summer peak tourism season, based on state Department of Transportation data.

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

In their own words

Here are highlights from comments to the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday night:

-- Olga Weiss of the Historic District Commission: "How sad it would be to have a four-story, nondescript building abutting this historic spot. We think a perfect design, preferably a colonial, lower profile in keeping with the current two-story ZBA limit, would be more palatable."

-- Buddy Adler, Lenox resident: "People come here because it's a tourist town, Marriott is a quality operation. We're starting to nit-pick on very small things that were fully addressed by the presentation I heard. ... We've got a great opportunity here, it's a real positive move. I would hope that everybody would get together to find an answer to how this project can be viable, and the sooner the better."

-- Maria Smith, general manager, Hampton Inn & Suites: "It also matters who is the owner of the hotel. ... The Toole family knows what it is to be a host in a small town. Marriott would be a perfect place and under Joe and his family, it would be great, it would prosper."

-- Judy Moss, Lenox resident: "I have concerns about the height and the area being the gateway to the town. What brings people to Lenox is the bucolic beauty of our area. I'm concerned before you issue special permits. ... I want to make sure we're doing the right thing for the town of Lenox.

-- Robert Coakley, Lenox native: "Our family has lived in Lenox for five generations and we care deeply about the town. Joe (Toole) has lived in this area all his life and knows what this area is looking for. His buildings are done in a classy, very nice manner. He maintains his properties in an excellent fashion. We very, very strongly support Joe's petition and hope that you'll vote for it."

-- Frederick Keator, Lenox native: "The history of Lenox is to promote and create more tourism, and it's anathema to me that we don't want to have a place to put the tourists when they come to visit."

-- Jim Harwood, architect, Lenox resident: "I think it's probably a reasonable site for a hotel but we should be trying to make this the best hotel project for the site that it can be. I find myself severely disappointed with the manifestation of this building. I find the scale, massing, materials, approach to the site wholly inappropriate. ... This building, which could be literally anywhere in America, doesn't belong here and if they want 92 rooms, they should explore some options that are lower and more respectful. I think if these guys went back at it, they could probably get there. I have faith in them, they're excellent professionals and I hope that they do."

-- Patty Spector, Lenox resident: "I have no disagreement about the hotel use on the property, the aesthetics is what I question, and also the fact that Courtyards all over the country are extremely different, depending on the community they exist in. I'm in favor of the project, I think the boards and Joe can work together to come up with something that is appropriate for the town."

-- Dave Ward, owner of Lenox Commons: "We welcome Joe Toole and his group as a good partner, a good neighbor. We look forward to seeing what you folks do with this, and I think you're on the right track."

-- Robert Fuster, Jr., ZBA member: "This won't affect my vote, but I think this is a very ugly design. I agree with some of the comments that this is not appropriate for Lenox."

-- Joseph Toole (in response): "This is the struggle. You have to show that you've embodied some of the design elements within the neighborhood. I understand what people are saying, I'm all about aesthetics. ... What's before me now is this agonizing question, how do I make it viable financially and make it fit within the environment. I'd love to wave my wand and make this different, but it has to be a hotel. You're going to love what this looks like when it's done, we're going to have great landscaping there, we'll do everything we can, but as far as the physicality of the building, there isn't anything we can do. I want this to look wonderful because I need it for the business and I want to fit in here. We're going to do our best but there's a limit to how far we can go."