Pittsfield ZBA to field latest challenge to Hilton project


PITTSFIELD -- A new challenge to the proposed 95-room Hilton Garden Inn project -- focused on parking and traffic issues -- will come before the city Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday.

The owners of the Comfort Inn, across the highway from the Hilton site at 1032 South St., have sent the ZBA eight pages outlining objections they intend to raise to challenge a building permit issued for the hotel project.

Attorney John R. Gobel, of Gobel & Hollister, who represents Somnath Inc. and the Desai family, stated that the challenge is filed under sections of the zoning bylaw "having to do with off-street parking, including access to such parking and the effect thereof on traffic."

He also challenges "the adequacy of the plans and specifications."

The city has issued a building permit to developer Vijaysinh N. Mahida and his Prem Management Inc. for the planned $8.1 million Hilton Garden Inn, but construction is on hold after preliminary site work. The project also faces a lawsuit in Superior Court that challenges the use of a 270-foot, shared access drive from South Street to the building site -- located behind Guido's Fresh Marketplace.

Mahida has said he expects the lawsuit -- filed by a corporate entity that owns a parcel bordering the Hilton site and sharing the right-of-way -- to be concluded next year. A motion seeking dismissal of the suit is scheduled for a hearing in January.

Mahida said he hopes construction of the hotel will begin in 2014, and he is aiming for an opening in 2015.

William E. Martin, of Martin, Oliveira & Hamel, representing Mahida and Prem Management, reiterated last week that a hotel is a "by-right" use in that Routes 7 and 20 zoning district, meaning no special permit is required. He added that the potential impacts on parking and traffic outlined in the submission by Gobel to the ZBA are exaggerated or incorrect -- "and they know this."

Martin said he believes city building inspection officials "are confident they made the right decision" in issuing the project a building permit, and he termed the effort before the ZBA "one more attempt by a competitor to slow down construction by the developer of the Hilton inn."

Gobel, in his submission to the ZBA, contends there was "insufficient information" about the Hilton project concerning the intensity of the use, parking and access to the site, and about the number of employees required.

He asks the ZBA to "revoke the existing permit so that this important information can be developed."

Gobel said that should occur in the context of "either a ... special permit hearing before the Community Development Board to reduce the requisite parking" required, or a "Superior Court review of the applicant's appeal of a permit revocation by this board [the ZBA] or a new application."

Among arguments in the submission are that use of the main Hilton access driveway is being contested by Eastern States Real Estate Management LLC in the suit at Superior Court. The corporate entity has ties to Joseph M. Toole, of Toole Lodging Group, which seeks to build a 92-room Courtyard Marriott hotel nearby at 21 Dan Fox Drive.

As part of what has been referred to as the area's "hotel wars," involving at least three Berkshire hotel operators, Eastern States purchased a lot this spring along the access right-of-way for the Hilton site and now is challenging use of the driveway for the project.

Gobel also argues that the access area will be overburdened with traffic, especially as it abuts the parking lot of Guido's market.

In addressing parking planned for the hotel, Gobel contends there is inadequate space for vehicles to circulate among parking spaces on the 2.4-acre hotel site, that the number of spaces needed will be greater than is included in the plans, and that the number of employees required will be greater than the figures mentioned for the hotel by the developer, leading to a need for more parking.

His submission includes a report from a traffic engineering consultant, Kim Eric Hazarvartian, of TEPP Inc. of Salem, N.H., and maps of the project area.

Comfort Inn owner Mauer Desai earlier this year detailed his concerns in a letter sent to city councilors. He cited a "small lot with a slender opening from Routes 7 and 20" as a major issue, referring to the driveway from the highway into the Hilton project site. He said a hotel of that size will greatly exacerbate traffic congestion along the commercial strip.

Martin said Thursday that South Street is "the major highway through the city of Pittsfield" and well able to handle any increase in traffic, which he predicted would not be great.

He said traffic from the Hilton site might be similar to when Dr. Leahy's Garden Center was located there -- especially since a second right-of-way has been negotiated to the parcel through the Pittsfield Rye Bakery property to the north.

Toole's Marriott project also has been stalled by an appeal of a wetlands-related work permit to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The appeal by several local environmentalists was upheld by the DEP, and Toole said he will appeal.

He had obtained all required permits from the city prior to the appeal.

To reach Jim Therrien:
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien

At issue ...

Owners of the Comfort Inn contend, among other claims:

n That the access area will be overburdened with traffic;

n That there isn't enough space for vehicles to circulate among parking spaces;

n That the number of employees required will be greater than initially mentioned, leading to a need for more parking spaces.


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