Lenox zoning board gives Nejaime's OK; puts Hoff's on hold

LENOX -- While one major central Lenox business expansion project has received the kiss of life from the town's zoning board, another remains mired in legal limbo for now.

Nejaime's Wine Cellar, an anchor business downtown for more than 30 years, will add on to its existing building at 60-68 Main St. in the Village Center for a substantial increase in retail space, a project set to be completed by next summer for a so-far undetermined cost.

But Hoff's Mobil, seeking to end its auto-repair business, relocate its busy towing franchise and morph into a modern convenience store with gas pumps, is still awaiting the green light from the zoning regulators as they sift through legal challenges presented by an attorney for a rival convenience-store owner directly adjacent.

The Nejaime's expansion, the first new downtown commercial project approved in more than a decade, drew a unanimous vote in favor of a special permit by the Zoning Board of Appeals following a brisk presentation by attorney Philip Heller, architect Steve Barry of Pittsfield, and James Scalise of S&K Design Group in Pittsfield.

Scalise, discussing the traffic impact, said there would be negligible effects on the busy shopping center that already hosts about 10,000 daily vehicle trips in the summer, according to Regional Planning Commission statistics.

The project was submitted by PVI Lenox Village LLC, which owns the downtown complex that houses the post office and several other businesses. The firm's owner, Drew Davis of Springfield, attended the hearing but, following approval, declined to put a dollar figure on the project. Drew acquired the Village Center in January 2011 for $1.7 million. He detailed structural and cosmetic improvements for the post office building and the parking lot.

The 40-by-47 foot, 1,880-square foot retail addition will be built on the east side of the current Nejaime's store, which currently has 3,024 square feet. The parking lot serving the Village Center will have 60 spaces as required by zoning regulations. The town's Historic District Commission previously approved the expansion with conditions involving brickwork, roof color and siding.

Joseph Nejaime, who first leased the building in 1999 to relocate his business from Church Street, said he hopes the expansion can be completed by next summer. The store, which features gourmet cheeses and other specialty foods in addition to wine and spirits, will remain open while the new wing is constructed. The site formerly housed Bull's Garage, followed by the Lemon Tree gift shop and Cheesecake Charlie's in the retail space rebuilt in 1969.

"It's a healthy way to develop the downtown, and community needs would be served by the proposal," Heller told Zoning Board members, noting that only 3 percent of the land in Lenox is zoned commercial. "It's something that should be supported by the community because we have so little commercial land that can be developed," he said.

Construction is expected to begin promptly in order to meet the six-month timetable for the expansion.

The Hoff's convenience store project, originally broached in the summer of 2011, was resubmitted to the ZBA by Shanlen Realty Corp., owner of the property. The 90 Main St. property has been a service station since 1929. Glenn Hoff Sr. acquired it in 1977. Approval of the project has been delayed because of legal opposition by attorney Alexandra Glover of Great Barrington representing Dan O'Brien, the 18-year owner of his own convenience store next door to Hoff's Mobil.

Attorney Jeffrey Lynch of Lenox, on behalf of Shanlen Realty, noted that the project has been reconfigured following a Zoning Board site visit last April to survey traffic and parking concerns along with potential congestion at the site.

The parking scenario outlined in the special permit reapplication was reconfigured by SK Design, yielding six parking spots, including two at the fuel pumps, as well as a loading zone. Currently, there are four designated parking spots.

Lynch presented the proposal as involving renovations to an existing structure, rather than an expansion or new construction, so it does not trigger an expanded parking requirement.

He also argued that the auto-repair portion of the business, a non-conforming use of the property under town zoning bylaws, is being removed, replaced by a retail store use, which is permitted "by right." At the same time, continuing the sale of gasoline -- also a non-conforming use -- does not create a negative impact since it has been allowed for 83 years, he said.

Glover contended that if the gas station were formally permitted at the location, instead of continuing as a non-conforming use, more parking would be required. "This clearly is a change in the use of the property the gas, parking and traffic are being reconfigured, and that has a direct effect on all the uses of the property," she said.

She also said that the two parking spots designated at the gas pumps are not legitimate spaces for the use of the property as a convenience store. "I think we're trying to shoehorn a use into a spot that just doesn't fit," she argued.

After the nearly 90-minute discussion, the ZBA delayed action on the proposal -- approved in September 2011 by the Historic District Commission -- and scheduled a resumption of the public hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

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


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