STOCKBRIDGE -- Although no breakthrough has emerged, exploratory discussions have begun between leaders of neighborhood groups opposing the planned $50 million, 112-room Elm Court Resort, and the Denver-based resort company's president.
Both sides agree that differences remain on the key issue -- the size and scale of the complex, including a 60-seat public restaurant and 15,000 square-foot spa, and its expected impact on the Old Stockbridge Road neighborhood bisecting Lenox and Stockbridge.
"That's a fair statement," said Adam Hawthorne, president of Travaasa Experiential Resorts, which would operate Elm Court. "The key difference and opinion is how this project will affect the neighborhood. I think it will be a great addition to the neighborhood."
Describing the private meeting held last week at the Stockbridge Town Offices as "cordial, wide-ranging and frank," Barney Edmonds of the Old Stockbridge Road Neighborhood Association stressed that the two sides "are no closer to a resolution than we were going into the meeting. What did change somewhat was that we both gained a better understanding of the other's position."
Edmonds and Steve Peters, an association participant and board member of the nearby Bishop Estate Association, attended the session with Hawthorne.
"The purpose was a clarification of the goals," Edmonds said. "We told him what about it was too large, and what we fear."
"I am glad that I had another opportunity to meet directly with some neighbors of Elm Court," Hawthorne said.
Citing a mutual agreement to keep the details of the discussion confidential in order to promote candid conversation, Hawthorne said he believes "this set the tone for an ongoing dialogue. Although we still disagree on certain points, I think the meeting was a good step towards more productive communication."
In an Eagle interview by phone from his Denver office, Hawthorne said despite the opening of dialog, "we did not come to an exact solution."
"We've run the numbers on the project every way we can," he said. "We've come up with the smallest possible project that makes it financially viable. We wouldn't look at changing the scale."
The Stockbridge Select Board, which could decide on parent company Amstar's special permit application at its Sept. 8 meeting, had urged the two sides to get together in an effort to narrow their differences.
"We asked for the meeting to perhaps find some common ground," Edmonds told The Eagle. "It was candid and open, with both sides trying to find some places where they could agree. There was no narrowing of the gap in terms of size and scale."
"We don't have another meeting scheduled," Hawthorne said, "but we've been very open to having another. There's no downside to us continuing to talk, it would very positive to continue to have discussions."
The association co-founded by Edmonds, his wife Julie, and nearby residents, continues to assert that the project is too big for the residentially-zoned neighborhood.
"We want it smaller, that's the disagreement in a nutshell," said Edmonds.
The association has nearly 140 signatures on a petition opposing the resort plan in its current form -- the majority are Stockbridge residents, but many live in Lenox.
Since the frontage and the entrance of the historic Elm Court estate lie in Lenox, that town's planning and zoning boards would have to review and rule on the proposal if it's approved by the Stockbridge Select Board.
While Hawthorne declined to express optimism over the outcome, he voiced the hope that "the boards see the benefits of the project to the entire community and that they do approve it because of those benefits."
On the Web ...
Old Stockbridge Road Neighborhood Association: osrna.wordpress.com
Elm Court Resort Project (Travaasa Resorts): www.elmcourt.com
In their own words ...
Adam Hawthorne, president, Travaasa Experiential Resorts: "My goal between now and the next Stockbridge Select Board meeting is to get the facts out about the project in as clear a way as I can. Elm Court needs a financially stable plan for the future, and we provide a plan that delivers that through a well-thought out blueprint for the property, building on less than 1 percent of the acreage allowing us to maintain 99 percent of the open space."
Barney Edmonds, co-founder, Old Stockbridge Road Neighborhood Association: "We were glad to communicate without attorneys and look for ways to further the dialogue. The atmosphere was friendly, we would welcome more meetings."
Adam Hawthorne: "If I was in the neighborhood, I would also have concerns but we've addressed all those very effectively. The traffic study depicted a worst-case scenario -- high-season 100 percent occupancy -- and it still shows no undue increase in traffic. To restore the mansion, it will cost the same amount as the new additions. We need those additional rooms available for high season, 6 to 8 weeks. Since the projected occupancy is 55 to 60 percent annually, we need additional rooms just during the peak season to make it financially viable for the full year."
Barney Edmonds: "It was a good meeting, we're glad we had it, we went into detail on some of the stumbling blocks. If they come back with a smaller-scale plan, we would consider it. There's time, we're still working on it."