Fate of Elm Court’s rebirth in Stockbridge’s hands
STOCKBRIDGE -- The rebirth of the historic Elm Court Mansion as a high-end, 112-room boutique resort, including a spa and 60-seat public restaurant, now depends on Select Board approval of a special permit.
The three-member board meets Monday evening at 6:30 in the Town Offices to examine a voluminous application and hear a presentation by Christopher Manning, senior vice president of the Amstar Group in Denver, the global real estate firm that owns Travaasa Experiential Resorts.
Attorney David Hellman of Hellman, Shearn and Arienti, the Great Barrington firm representing Front Yard LCC of Denver, the subsidiary seeking the permit, said the resort proposed for 310 Old Stockbridge Road has added 16 rooms to its original plan -- a total of 112, including 16 existing rooms in the Elm Court mansion, and 96 in a new hotel wing, an increase from 80.
However, the new wing has been moved deeper into the woods behind the mansion, Hellman explained, "to screen it completely from all points. Once the project is built, the only people who will know it’s there will be those on the site."
The property is on a bluff with a scenic vista overlooking Stockbridge Bowl and distant hills to the south.
In May 2013, by the required two-thirds majority, voters at the annual town meeting approved a change in the zoning bylaw allowing the owners to add a wing with a 50-foot-high roofline that would exceed the previous, maximum permitted height of 35 feet.
Addressing several residents’ concerns last week, Hellman noted that a balloon test conducted with members of the Select Board, Conservation Commission and the Stockbridge Bowl Association revealed only slight visibility of what would be the new wing’s highest point from a small sliver of the lake.
A small part of the roofline on a connector linking the mansion to the hotel addition could be visible from the road, he added.
As for traffic impact, Hellman cited an updated study by Fuss & O’Neill, an environmental engineering firm in West Springfield, depicting the addition of one car to Old Stockbridge Road every 80 seconds at peak weekday hours (3:30-5:30 p.m.), and one every 45 seconds at peak times on Saturdays (11 a.m.-1 p.m.).
The study includes a projection for the year 2021 during peak times in summer, showing an increase of 40 vehicles at a nearby intersection on a weekday afternoon, and 97 on Saturday at midday, compared to current traffic.
The application states that "regular users of the roadway are unlikely to notice a change in traffic operations as a result of the proposed addition." The section of Old Stockbridge Road adjacent to the Elm Court runs along the Lenox and Stockbridge town lines. A portion of the property’s frontage lies in Lenox.
Stockbridge Housing Authority Chairman Barney Edmonds has described the project as "a permanent detriment to the peaceful character of our residential neighborhood. ... It is up to the Selectmen to weigh the pros and cons of this proposal and decide if it will improve the public welfare and better preserve our heritage."
A letter to the editor also signed by Julie Edmonds contends that "this proposed hotel is inappropriate in scale, does not blend in architecturally, and does not belong on a residential street. We urge the Selectmen to deny the special permit and ask Travaasa to reapply with a smaller, less intrusive solution that everyone can support."
The Stockbridge Historic Preservation Commission, the Conservation Commission and Fire Chief Chuck Cardillo have endorsed the project.
The Select Board’s approval for the nonresidential use of the site is required, since the Elm Court is in a residentially zoned district.
The property already receives Lenox town water. The application proposes to connect the resort into that town’s sewer line, allowing Lenox residents who live just north of the project to tie in. A letter of support for the plans was written by Sean VanDeusen, superintendent of public works in Lenox.
Initial plans to revive the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places were revealed at an open house for the community in April 2013. Robert and Sonya Berle had sold Elm Court to Amstar’s subsidiary for $9.8 million in July 2012, a record price for what had been a residential property.
The Berles restored about a third of the mansion, according to Hellman, but he depicted the rest of the building as in "total disrepair."
"The only entity that could afford to deal with the mansion is a company like Amstar that has the deep pockets and is not going out of business," Hellman said.
"Stockbridge created its cottage-era estate bylaw," he added. "This is the poster child for it."
The project encompasses the 53,600-square-foot existing mansion and a connector and hotel wing totaling about 52,000 square feet. Parking for up to 112 guest vehicles and additional employee cars would be located a quarter-mile from the mansion in a shielded area.
The attorney described "a massive amount of historical research" by the project architect, Greg Allwine of Johnson Braund Design Group in Seattle, since the new hotel wing must meet standards of the U.S. Department of the Interior for a design that complements the historic mansion.
As Hellman sees it, "this is practically a flawless project; it benefits the town and is no detriment to anybody. It provides jobs as well as room and meals taxes for the town. It’s truly one of those all-win situations."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto
1886: The Elm Court Mansion is built for the New York-based Sloane and Vanderbilt families.
1948: Col. H. George Wilde and his wife, Marjorie Field Wilde (descendant of William H. Vanderbilt), open the mansion as an inn accommodating up to 60 people, with dancing and dinner on Saturday nights.
1957: The inn is closed and the property lies dormant for 40 years, subjected to arson, looting and deterioration.
1998: After the death of Col. Wilde, the Elm Court was taken over by his daughter, Lila Berle.
1999: The property is sold to her son, Robert Berle, a descendant of the Sloanes, and his wife, Sonya, for close to $1 million. They renovate and restore much of the mansion, opening it later as a small inn specializing in wedding receptions.
2005: The estate is placed on the market for $21.5 million, reduced to $17.5 million a year later. After a sale to a hotel company fell apart, the price was lowered to $14 million before it was taken off the market.
2012: Amstar’s Front Yard LLC purchases the property for $9.8 million, a Berkshire record price for a former private residence.
2013: At an annual town meeting in May, Stockbridge voters approve a zoning bylaw modification allowing a 50-foot high wing housing 80 hotel rooms to be built.
2014: Front Yard submits a special permit application to the Select Board for action in the summer, expanding the proposed wing to 96 rooms.
Sources: National Register of Historic Places; Eagle archives
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