Cranwell expansion plan could face crucial test Sept. 26

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LENOX — With no sign that opposition is softening to the proposed $60 million renovation by the Miraval Group for the Cranwell property, the Zoning Board of Appeals has confirmed that its third and possibly decisive public meeting on the special permit application is set for at 7 p.m. Sept. 26 in Town Hall auditorium.

Because of sound-system difficulties at the Aug. 29 public hearing, the town had sought to move the next meeting to the Duffin Auditorium at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, which has state-of-the-art audio-visual facilities. But the site is not available on Sept. 26 and schedule conflicts by board members prevented moving the session to later in the week.

"The town is working hard to ensure that the sound system in the auditorium will work effectively throughout the next hearing and that all in attendance will be able to hear the proceedings clearly," said Land Use Director and Town Planner Gwen Miller.

The opponents include owners of four condominium developments on or adjacent to Cranwell and area residents who have been using the spa, golf course, swimming pools and other amenities at the existing resort for free or at deeply discounted rates since 1999.

Critics of the Miraval proposal to create an upgraded health and wellness resort contend that new rates proposed by Miraval, which operates an exclusive, high-end resort in Tucson, Ariz., are unaffordable and that the company seeks to exclude the community.

They have fiercely criticized Miraval's plan to create gates for access to the property. If the ZBA approves the special permit, Miraval, through its private equity investment owner, KSL Capital Partners, would purchase the resort from CampGroup LLC, the Cranwell owner since July 2015, for a reported $20 million.

In its revised design plan for the 380-acre property, Miraval eliminated a 52-room, three-story lodging facility that encountered opposition over its size and location. Instead, four smaller, residential-style buildings containing 11 or 12 guest rooms each would be positioned on the site.

The current 105-room resort would expand to 148 rooms, as allowed in the property's existing special permit. Miraval Group CEO and President Steven A. Rudnitsky has projected that the upgraded resort would generate $1.3 million in real estate, sales and lodging taxes for the town, following a one-time, $1.1 million payment for sewer, water and other utility connection fees.

During the public comment segment at the Aug. 29 ZBA meeting attended by at least 125 residents, only one of the 15 speakers supported the resort application. Additional opponents have stated their views in emails and letters to Town Hall and in Eagle letters to the editor.

Reflecting the high-stakes issues, attorney F. Sydney Smithers of Cain Hibbard & Myers in Pittsfield, representing Miraval, and John Gobel of Gobel & Hollister, also in Pittsfield, have traded strongly worded claims and counter-claims.

A legal review by the Lenox town counsel, Kopelman and Paige of Boston, is awaited at Town Hall. The firm was asked to rule on whether condo owners and area residents have continuing rights to access the resort's amenities on current terms under new owners, and whether the project requires a 200-foot buffer zone setback separating new construction from condo homes.

Gobel has argued that the four condo associations he represents — Fairwynds I and II, and Coldbrooke East and South — are not part of the Cranwell resort property because they received separate deeds so the resort owners could save on real estate taxes.

In a new legal memo to the ZBA, attorney Joelle Collins of Cain Hibbard contended that for zoning purposes, the condo parcels are within the resort because ZBA special permits from 1986 anticipated a mixed-use resort, including private home ownership as part of the Estate Preservation Bylaw. She cited FairWynds Master Deeds from 1999 stating that the condo developments are part of the Cranwell Resort and Golf Club, as it was then known.

The Cain Hibbard document also argues that lodging buildings and parking lots are not "activity areas" as defined by the town's zoning bylaws and do not require 200-foot setback buffers.

Addressing the amenity-rights issue, the legal memo cites the 1999 deed as giving condo owners use of spa facilities and services during the same hours and on the same basis as resort guests, "making it clear that the condominium owners have no role or discretion regarding the construction of future facilities."

Miraval's attorneys state that the deed ensures that condo owners will not be charged higher rates for amenities than resort guests but "does not set a ceiling on what those rates might be."

In its Aug. 29 presentation revising details of its initial application, Miraval proposed various rates for condo owners to access amenities such as the indoor pool, fitness center and spa services once the resort renovations are completed.

The proposed membership fees range from $810 at Fairwynds to $1,200 a year at Coldbrooke for a two-person household, $15 a day for guests, $5 for children under 16, and $15 for each fitness class. Access to the outdoor pool and tennis courts would be free, and golf memberships would be discounted by 20 percent from rates still to be determined.

Membership fees for other Berkshire residents are projected at $150 per month for the indoor pool, fitness center and spa services (with a 20 percent weekday discount on spa-services fees); free fitness classes and tennis; a 20 percent discount for golf course greens fees as well as designated restaurants and retail shops and a 10 percent discount for day passes.

If the Miraval special permit application ultimately wins approval by the ZBA and is not appealed to the Massachusetts Land Court, construction would begin next year with a goal of opening Miraval/Lenox in 2019, operating as CRW Holdings LLC, incorporated in Delaware. The current resort would remain open during the renovations.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

If you go ...

What: Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals third public meeting on the Miraval Group's special permit application for Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort.

When: 7 p.m. Sept. 26

Where: Lenox Town Hall Auditorium, 6 Walker St.

Agenda: The ZBA will reopen the public hearing on Miraval's proposal to invest $60 million to renovate and expand the resort following a $20 million purchase of the property. If the board does not decide on the application, an additional meeting will be scheduled.

At Stake: Intense opposition by Cranwell condo owners and area residents who use the resort facilities at no- or low-cost; legal arguments and counterarguments by attorneys representing Miraval and the four condominium associations at the site.

Response to opponents ...

The Miraval Group updated its design proposal for Cranwell following intense public criticism:

• Replaced original hotel-sized, 52-room Guest Cottage with house-sized units (11 and 12 rooms, respectively) and moved remainder of new housing inventory (29 rooms) to center of campus, away from the FairWynds condos.

• Preserved Cranwell fitness center, including indoor pool, exercise and fitness studios, spa suite and treatment room, whirlpool, hair, pedicure, manicure and massage services for use by FairWynds and Coldbrooke owners, their children and grandchildren and other Berkshire County residents (all on an fee basis), plus exercise classes ($15 per person).

• Developed nominal fee schedule providing access to the Cranwell fitness center and Sloane's outdoor pool for FairWynds and Coldbrooke owners, their children and grandchildren and Berkshire County residents.

• Created discounted day passes to the new Miraval-Lenox wellness spa for FairWynds, Coldbrooke and Berkshire County residents.

• Relocated warehouse and maintenance facilities to west side of Route 20, eliminating truck deliveries via Walker Street.

• Removed the existing derelict and unsightly staff quarters, laundry, administration and maintenance buildings.

• Increased setback of guest housing from 45 to 70 feet from the edge of Blossom Hill overlooking condos, lowered maximum height of guest housing from 45 to 35 feet 5 inches.

• Improved interior road access to FairWynds and added hands-free transponder security gate operation.

• Added a linear pedestrian park around the Miraval-Lenox campus and provided foot access to Mansion, Sloane's Tavern and the Cranwell fitness center.

• Added a 35-foot planted buffer from the edge of FairWynds Drive to shield view of outdoor pool and Sloane's.

• Increased the parking lot planted buffer from 20 to 50 feet from the edge of FairWynds Drive, added masonry wall to shield view of cars.

Source: Cain Hibbard & Myers, law firm representing Miraval Group.


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