Lenox Club members scrap plan to sell land for development


LENOX — Amid strong neighborhood opposition and internal division, members of the private Lenox Club have voted to abandon consideration of a potential housing development on six lots of its 114-acre property.

The vote, taken by secret ballot on Friday evening, was 54-47 opposed to pursuing a potential development deal that could have resulted in six new homes on a wooded section of Under Mountain Road.

"Development is off the table for now," said Tom Werman, a member and co-owner of the Stonover Farm bed-and-breakfast on Under Mountain Road. "The vote was that we will not permit the board to go forward with negotiations."

However, Werman described the 150 club members as "a very collegial group of people Nobody is going to resent other people because they have a different opinion."

LD Builders developer Dave Ward had expressed interest in a potential purchase of a half-dozen one-acre lots for a reported price of $400,000. He told The Eagle earlier this past week that he was awaiting developments at the club in connection with a possible deal.

The club is facing financial hurdles with a $441,000 mortgage held by a group of members due in 15 months. According to its 2015 IRS filing, the nonprofit organization listed assets of $661,836 and liabilities of $459,643.

According to Werman, the mortgage holders are "flexibly generous in terms of extending the due date."

He pointed out that a couple who are club members have "generously offered to buy club land for conservancy. That would be a great start."

"I think there are several ways to tap a few different sources to meet the club's obligations," Werman added, emphasizing that he was speaking as an individual member and not representing the club's leadership.

Neighborhood opponents along the scenic Cliffwood Street and Under Mountain Road just west of downtown Lenox, familiar to concertgoers as a shortcut to Tanglewood, had put up at least 26 signs a few days ago stating: "Protect our woods, STOP! the Lenox Club."

As word spread of the vote, signs were being taken down on Saturday morning.

"We're obviously happy," said Under Mountain Road resident Seth Nash. "A lot of the neighbors were a bit up in arms because of not knowing much about what was going on."

In his view, club leaders were not transparent with neighborhood homeowners. "It didn't feel great that a club with the Lenox name in it was not including Lenox," he said.

In contrast, Nash cited the Sprague family's recent agreement to preserve nearly all the land on its Undermountain Farm through a conservation restriction in perpetuity held by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

One longtime club member, who asked not to be identified, said that voters opposed to further consideration of a plan to try to sell off 88 acres of the property — including at least 50 to the BNRC — were concerned about divisiveness that had developed among the club membership.

"Most of the people favor land conservation," the member said. "They want open space. Those voting in favor wanted more discussion, while others felt it wouldn't be in our best interest to pursue the potential development."

"I am pleased that cooler heads prevailed and the majority of members of the Lenox Club rejected the leadership's rushed agenda to develop a portion of the club's woodlands," said Cliffwood Street resident Channing Gibson.

"The club now has a real opportunity to discuss more fully its collective values, its legacy, its responsibilities to the community and the environment, and to explore all options for its future," he said. "It is my hope that, just as the Sprague family worked hard to preserve the precious Lenox resource of Undermountain Farm nearby, the Lenox Club will commit to protect for future generations its own woods and wetlands and thereby help ensure the conservation of the entire Parson's Marsh valley."

For the 2014-15 fiscal year, Lenox Club expenses totaled $345,451 while revenue was pegged at $324,480.

The club's president, Ray Casella of Suffield, Conn., has declined to respond to requests for comment.

The Yokun Avenue property includes 114 acres, much of it forested. Eighty-seven acres are exempt from local property taxes because they were placed under the state's Chapter 61 woodlands protection provision. On the remaining acreage, the club's real estate tax bill last year was about $30,000, according to Town Hall records.

Under the proposal voted down by the members, the club would have retained 26 acres, including its historic mansion and surrounding land, including tennis and croquet courts.

Berkshire Natural Resources Council President Tad Ames said that recent talks with the club on a potential 50-acre conservation restriction were put on hold when the council was informed of the possible sale of six lots for one-acre housing construction.

In an Eagle interview before Friday's vote, Ames left the door open for discussion of a new plan without the housing development, but "it's going to have to deliver true conservation and recreation benefits to the people of Lenox and the public at large."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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