Cranwell expansion under fire from condo residents

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LENOX — A decision on a proposed expansion of Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort will have to wait another month.

After the fourth public meeting on the proposal, the Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday put off voting on the Miraval Group's special permit application to transform the 105-room resort into a high-end health and wellness destination with 148 rooms.

During the nearly two-hour Town Hall session attended by close to 100 residents, several condo owners renewed their pushback against Miraval's plan to purchase Cranwell for an estimated $20 million and to invest $60 million to renovate the property.

Again, they voiced concerns over future public access to the property and the cost of amenities such as the spa, fitness center, indoor pool, restaurants and golf course.

An equal number of other speakers expressed strong support for the project.

Attorney John Gobel, representing two condominium associations on the property, suggested that the ZBA consider the "potential loss of access to these amenities and what effect it will have on the immediate condo community and the community at large."

Citing a recent "media campaign" by Miraval, Gobel questioned whether a new special permit would include continued public access to the facilities, which he called a "public accommodation" even though they are on private property.

Gobel also complained that Cranwell condo owners and the general public have not been given enough details on the cost of accessing some of the resort's amenities under potential Miraval ownership.

"Miraval has made a serious and expensive effort to modify its proposal to accommodate the legitimate issues raised by condominium unit owners on the property as well as town of Lenox residents," said attorney F. Sydney Smithers.

He detailed Miraval's efforts to modify previously approved special permits allowing construction of 43 additional hotel rooms, as well as new spa, wellness facilities on the 380-acre property. Instead of the originally proposed, 52-room hotel building, Miraval now seeks to build four residential-style lodging cottages with 11 or 12 guest rooms each.

"We've been making a whole host of our changes ... a function of us listening to the homeowners and resetting and enhancing what we have for the benefit of all concerned," said Miraval Group CEO and President Steven A. Rudnitsky.

But Rudnitsky also decried "a tremendous amount of misinformation, to say the least, that has needlessly confused and in some cases alarmed the community, unnecessarily."

"It's clearly our intention to make absolutely certain that we are open to the community and we'll take the opportunity for our guests to experience Lenox," he said. "We believe it's a destination that will enhance the resort, people will come to Miraval and then go to take advantage of all there is here."

"We really want to be part of this community and give back to the community," Rudnitsky said.

According to Smithers and Rudnitsky, under Miraval ownership, the resort would yield $1.9 million in taxes to the town, up from $600,000-plus that Cranwell now generates.

Addressing some opponents' claims that Miraval intends to "wall off" the Cranwell property, project architect David Rau declared that no wall or barrier was ever proposed.

He also pointed out that condo owners would continue to enter the resort from Route 20 by using a transponder to open the main entrance gate.

ZBA Acting Chairwoman Shaun Leary Considine cited a ruling by the Lenox town lawyer, the municipal law specialists Kopelman and Paige of Boston, supporting the Miraval group's position that a 200-foot buffer is not required to separate new construction from the condominium developments on the periphery of the property.

In a related finding, Leary Considine said, Kopelman and Paige ruled that the "alleged amenities" in the deeded rights of condo owners who live on the Cranwell mixed-use property are private issues between the condo associations and the resort owner that are out of bounds for zoning board consideration.

In a separate legal memo to the zoning board, Attorney Alexander Glover contended that Miraval is "welcoming of Lenox and the community" but that any town-required public access to the resort property would be "illegal and a violation of the U.S. and Massachusetts constitutions."

Leary Considine said town counsel supports Glover's argument. Kopelman and Paige stated that a town board cannot force a resort owner to grant public access or require certain types of fees as a condition for issuing a special permit.

However, Smithers and ZBA member Robert Fuster Sr., pointed out that Miraval already has committed to fee-based public access.

The ZBA now plans a decision at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 after it receives detailed stormwater-management engineering plans from Steven Mack of Foresight Land Services to prevent runoff into the Fairwynds and Blossom Hill condominium properties.

"It's very much in the petitioner's interest to have this board to have the final engineering drawings so we're not making a decision and leaving something to be done after that," Leary Considine pointed out. "If there is an appeal in this case, which we would hope there would not be, we would try to be careful at every step of the way and ensure that people's concerns are addressed."

"We're very appreciative and want to acknowledge the board for setting aside some of the noise on setbacks and private matters, and are focusing on the Zoning Board process with great care and thoughtfulness," Rudnitsky told The Eagle on Tuesday. "I feel very good that the right decision will prevail and we can move forward."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

In their own words ...

Viewpoints expressed during the public comment portion of the Lenox zoning board's Monday night meeting on the Miraval Group's special permit application for the Cranwell resort property:

"If [Miraval] is serious about providing public access in the future, they could make a proffer to this board saying they will put public access into a covenant that will go with the land and will be recorded against the property and we can preserve public access to this property."

— Louis Saloway, Lenox resident

"There's always opposition and typically it's the same all the time, none of the things that were voiced in opposition for the original Cranwell or Canyon Ranch have come true. The values of property in Lenox have gone up consistently. I would suggest that this would continue to be part of the golden eggs laid by the golden geese of the Gilded Age that we're trying to preserve."

— Bob Romeo, downtown property owner, former Planning Board member

"There's a great deal of loss of revenue and businesses in Lenox, multiple shops have been vacant. This could result in a situation that could progress if something like this project and others like it are not allowed, and are thought about as being unnecessary or inappropriate. The reality is what you enjoy here in the Berkshires and Lenox is due to these kinds of opportunities. I have retailers tell me that one Canyon Ranch guest made their month. This is good for the Berkshires, good for Lenox and good for the residents, whether they're here for a couple of months or year-round."

— Carl Pratt, former Canyon Ranch and Cranwell manager

"One of our owners spoke about parking, Miraval and [CEO] Rudnitsky. That is not the sense of the Fairwynds community. The majority of our owners want to work with Miraval, we've had many discussion about terms. We haven't always agreed on everything but it would be wrong to say disparaging things about Miraval, about the potential, or about Mr. Rudnitsky himself."

— Alan Milbauer, chairman of the Fairwynds I board of trustees


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