Lenox Selectmen push for study on hotel needs in town
LENOX >> How can the town support more than 300 new hotel rooms that are either under construction, temporarily locked in legal limbo, or on the drawing boards?
That's the question posed by many local residents, Selectman David Roche told his colleagues at Wednesday night's meeting. Although the Selectboard is the "economically development arm of the town," he said, "that's an answer I can't provide."
Noting that no independent firm has weighed in on the potential demand for the high number of additional lodging facilities, Roche said that to avoid "unbridled development, it's incumbent upon us to try to get an expert in here to say that Lenox can support X number of hotel rooms. I think that's the direction we have to consider taking.
"I don't think the town should issue a permit for another hotel until we get this thing and get it done right," he declared.
Roche and Selectboard Chairman Edward Lane suggested that Gwen Miller, the town planner and land use director, be consulted to determine "what firms are out there" and see how many other communities have completed such studies.
Roche pointed out that 30 years ago, when he and co-investors were transforming the former Cranwell school into a resort, the town's Planning Board required an economic study paid for by the developers.
"We would hate to see a glut of rooms where every motel started to suffer and then we'd have vacancies and fire sales," he said. "That's not the position we want to be in. We want to make sure, for the success of our rooms and meals tax, that we have intelligent development that can be supported."
The town gained just more than $2 million in lodging and dining tax revenues during the past year.
Roche proposed that the Selectboard consider either hiring a firm to be paid for by any developer seeking town permits, or submit a warrant article to annual town meeting voters requiring that such studies be completed.
Lane pointed out that a system would have to be developed to cover the costs of studies by developers, either one by one or in groups — "it's got to be fair, however we break it up."
Roche suggested that any developer coming before the town should be armed with a study demonstrating a basis for the success of the venture. He cautioned that some lodging facilities have failed elsewhere in the nation because feasibility studies were lacking.
In Lenox and vicinity, new and proposed projects include the recently opened 95-room Hilton Garden Inn, just over the town line above Guido's Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield; hotel owner Joseph Toole's 92-room Courtyard by Marriott, now under construction at Brushwood Farms; the proposed Spring Lawn boutique resort next to Shakespeare & Company, and the Elm Court resort in Stockbridge, whose entrance and road frontage are in Lenox. Elm Court, approved by both towns, awaits a Massachusetts Land Court ruling on a challenge filed by eight neighbors.
In addition, developer Vijay Mahida and his family are working on plans for a 100-room extended-stay hotel and event center to replace the Magnuson Hotel, a former Econo Lodge and Holiday Inn, off Routes 7 and 20.
Roche emphasized that he favors "intelligent" hotel development, "making sure we can absorb it. ... We answer to the residents, the voters in the town have questions, and we're not adequately answering them because we don't have the answers."
Selectman Channing Gibson, agreeing that he gets many questions about hotel expansion, described Roche's proposal as "a strong idea," and Lane said it would be on the agenda of the next board meeting on Jan. 13.
But Selectman Warren Archey urged caution, noting that "these are for the most part private business decisions and how we get started on this has to be quite carefully thought out and explained to show the public purpose of this kind of thing. It makes good sense, but the question is whose role is what."
He suggested consulting town attorneys on how the information is gathered and used — "how and why we require it, and what would be contained in such a study."
Rooms at the inns ...
The following lodging facilities in Lenox and vicinity have opened or are in development:
• Hilton Garden Inn, Pittsfield Road, 95 rooms, opened August 2015.
• Courtyard by Marriott, Pittsfield Road, 92 rooms, under construction.
• Extended-stay Marriott or Hilton hotel, 100 rooms, replacing the 120-room Magnuson Hotel, Pittsfield Road, to be proposed.
• Spring Lawn, a boutique resort, Kemble St., Lenox, plans being revised. Room count TBA.
• Elm Court Resort, Old Stockbridge Road, Lenox and Stockbridge, 112 rooms, awaiting state Land Court ruling.