LENOX -- Motorists passing Brushwood Farms on Route 7 and 20 Saturday morning may wonder if a party is going on.
Balloons will be floated up to 48 feet to demonstrate the height of the 92-room Courtyard by Marriott project proposed by developer Joseph Toole. The display is part of a public site visit set for 10:30 a.m. by the Zoning Board of Appeals as it moves toward a potential decision on Feb. 5.
The plan has become a lightning rod in town, attracting highly charged bolts of opinion by supporters and opponents of what would be a $10 million investment yielding an estimated $400,000 a year in tax and fee revenue for the town.
At the Zoning Board's second public hearing on the issue held at Town Hall on Wednesday evening, the developer's attorney, Philip Heller, noted that the new facade was developed by Toole's team in response to public and town board feedback.
Heller listed a mansard roof, dormers, clapboard siding, shutters, archways, hexagon pillars and wood railings at the top "consistent with the design of other buildings in Lenox at the turn of the last century."
Citing similar facades, he displayed historic photos from around 1900 of the Curtis Hotel and the 400-room Aspinwall Hotel.
Restating the proposed Marriott's maximum height of 48.5 feet at its center, Heller depicted "the bulk of the building" as averaging 43 feet on the roof.
Nearly 25 residents attended the ZBA hearing; opinions differed among the handful who stepped up to the microphone.
Longtime downtown commercial landlord and Realtor Robert Romeo emphasized the town's cultural and scenic assets as a magnet for tourism, the lifeblood of the town's economic base, and he noted the appeal of chain hotels such as Marriott, partly because of perks for repeat guests.
"This type of project is clean, smooth and it's a sister to the golden goose that Cranwell and Canyon Ranch represent to the town," he said.
Although voicing agreement with Romeo's points, local architect Jim Harwood repeated concerns he expressed at previous meetings about the magnitude of the project. While acknowledging that "the design has progressed," he questioned design standards, claiming that Toole had followed Marriott prototypes "for suburban sites" rather than customized designs "for the leisure market."
"I think it's interesting that they're asking us to bend our rules for them but they're not going down the path that is clearly allowed in the Marriott guidelines to adopt their design to us," he said. "This really stands apart from rather than as a part of the community."
Resident Molly Elliot focused her dissent on the design and size and urged the ZBA to be "thoughtful in your consideration," while George C. Jordan III declared: "I don't like the design, no surprise. ... This certainly doesn't fit into the neighborhood, it looks kind of Frenchy, kind of Dutchy. What happened to something that's more in tune with Massachusetts?"
Lenox native Anthony Salvatore, who lives near the Brushwood site, acknowledged initial worries about the proposal but complimented the new design, adding that a Marriott would attract middle-class visitors.
"I'm very concerned about trying to survive in the town," he said, underlining the importance of room tax revenue to hold property tax bills in check. "We have to broaden our base and let development come in here."
He voiced support for the project as "best for the town, an asset for the community. We need to draw in people who are going to stay in Lenox. I think this building is tasteful."
Fire Chief Daniel Clifford said the height of the building presents no issues for his department.
Town Planner Mary Albertson observed that the applicant has provided a detailed project description, addressing all points raised in the zoning bylaws. She pointed out that it's up to the ZBA to determine whether or not the developers "have done a good job."
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What's next ...
Saturday, 10:30 a.m.: Lenox ZBA holds public site visit to the parcel on Brushwood Farms across from Lenox Commons
Tuesday, 6 p.m.: Planning Board discusses revised Marriott design plan prior to issuing an advisory comment for the ZBA
Wednesday, Feb. 5, 7:15 p.m.: ZBA accepts more public comment and potentially votes on the project