Lenox ZBA to field Marriott plan


LENOX -- The rivalry between hotel developers Joseph Toole and Vijaysinh Mahida will play out at Town Hall on Wednesday evening.

Toole's 92-room Courtyard by Marriott project on a vacant 6.6-acre parcel at Brushwood Farms off Routes 7 and 20 faces its first detailed public review by the town's Zoning Board of Appeals, which has the power to approve or reject the proposal.

The owner of the Yankee and Hampton inns seeks to relocate the proposed $10 million, four-story hotel from its previous intended site off Dan Fox Drive in Pittsfield following a legal and environmental challenge that delayed his construction timetable there.

The application from Toole's Brushwood Nominee Trust requires a special permit and a site plan review by the ZBA, which will hold a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Mahida, whose nearby Hilton Garden Inn project has faced its own legal complications, has publicly challenged the height and design of Toole's Marriott project.

"If they want to approve that one," Mahida told The Eagle recently, "they will like another four-story building that I will have next door. Then Lenox would have the whole road lined with ugly four-story buildings."

He has an option to purchase a 20-acre plot adjacent to the nearby Econo Lodge for a potential 100-room Comfort Inn.

"I personally have faith in the Lenox ZBA," he added. "They are very educated people and I think they dearly care about the future of the Lenox gateway and I think they will do the right thing for that area. If they set a precedent, I will follow that precedent."

He denied any personal hostility against Toole: "He runs very good operations at the Yankee and the Hampton inns," he said. "I personally don't see him as my enemy, I think it's healthy competition."

But Mahida's director of administration, Dave Carpenter, lashed out at Toole for suing Mahida over an access driveway to the Hilton Garden project adjacent to a small parcel purchased last year by Toole. "Vijay has never sued anyone in his life," Carpenter said. "The guy who's declared war here is Mr. Toole."

The lawsuit is scheduled for a hearing this Thursday in Berkshire Superior Court.

At an informational meeting of the Lenox Planning Board last month, Toole and his attorney, Philip Heller of Heller & Robbins, described the Marriott plan in detail and heard two supportive comments from the public as well as a critique by Mahida's attorney, William E. Martin of Martin, Oliveira and Hamel.

Instead of voting on whether to recommend the proposal to the ZBA, the Planning Board determined that the use of the site as a hotel is "appropriate."

In its memo commenting on Toole's application, the board expressed "apprehension" about the proposed 48-foot height of the Marriott, which requires a waiver of the town's 35-foot limit. But Fire Chief Daniel Clifford has supplied a supportive letter, emphasizing that fire safety is not an issue.

Board members voiced misgivings about the visual appearance of the four-story structure since the site is on a rise set back from the state highway. However, Toole and Heller asserted that landscaped screening would minimize the building's impact on passing motorists.

The Planning Board also expressed reservations about the traffic study commissioned by Toole since it was conducted in October rather than during peak summer-season travel.

The board questioned Toole about his assertion that his plan appeared to be Marriott's only available prototype and it urged the ZBA to proceed cautiously in connection with an exemption from the town's height limitations.

Mahida's attorney weighed in through a written objection to Town Planner Mary Albertson to the four-story proposal.

"I was very disturbed to hear Mr. Toole say on the record that Marriott would only approve what he called a template or prototype design," Martin's hand-delivered letter stated.

In 2005, Mahida applied to construct a similar Marriott at the intersection of the state highway and Housatonic Street, less than two miles south of the Brushwood Farms location. The ZBA turned down that project in early 2006 after numerous residents objected to the location adjacent to a residential area.

Mahida then expanded and upgraded his Great Barrington Comfort Inn, which will become a Marriott-branded Fairfield Inn and Suites on April 2.

"Marriott has a history of granting waivers to its prototype when necessary to accommodate responsible local planning," Martin wrote. "Examples of local boards maintaining strict, consistent community standards, with ultimate Marriott approval, are plentiful and readily apparent to Mr. Toole and to interested board members."

Martin's letter cited a Marriott hotel built in Middlebury, Vt., "designed to look like a three-story New England farmhouse."

"We have every reason to believe that the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals will make its decision after thorough consideration of the project," Martin wrote, "in a manner consistent with the town's various development guidelines, prior actions, and in its best interests. We were pleased with the Planning Board's quick grasp of the inappropriateness of the height, scale and aesthetics of the hotel building, as initially proposed, and their unanimous decision to make the ZBA promptly aware -- in writing -- of their concerns."

To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto


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