Revisions to Great Barrington hotel plan quiets opposition

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Opposition to a proposed downtown hotel has softened in light of the developer's latest revision to the once-contentious project.

During a public hearing on Wednesday, hotelier Vijay Mahida presented the revised version of the project before a crowd of about 160 residents and officials at Monument Mountain Regional High School.

Mahida is seeking a special permit to construct a $24 million hotel, to be known as The Berkshire, at the site of the former Searles Middle School on Bridge Street.

As initially proposed, the hotel would have been built on the footprint of the historic school building, which would have been demolished. But in light of opposition by some in the community, the developers have made a series of changes to the plan.

At the opening of the hearing last December, Mahida presented a plan that would have preserved the facade of the building. After opponents continued to protest, Mahida submitted revised plans last week that called for the preservation all four outer walls of the main structure. That change also reduced the number of rooms from 95 to 88.

"Make no mistake," Mahida said during Wednesday's presentation. "We are saving the exterior."

Selectboard Chairman Sean Stanton said because of the changes — even more tweaks were made to the plan earlier in the day — the hearing would be continued at 6 p.m. Feb. 22 at the high school, followed by the board's regular meeting at 7 p.m. The Planning Board and Conservation Commission were still examining the proposal, as well, he said.

Preservation of at least part of the building was required for the project to be granted an exemption from a 2014 bylaw that set a limit of 45 rooms in new hotel development. Projects in structures of historical significance, including the 100-year-old Searles building, can exceed that number — provided they maintain some of the historic elements.

In response to a question from Selectman Stephen Bannon, Mahida said the interior of the school will be removed, primarily for ADA reasons.

Both the former Mike Alphonso Gymnasium and the annex building at the rear of the school will be razed.

Attorney Katherine McCormick, representing the developers, said the facility will have 91 parking spaces. In addition, she said, another 40 spaces that are privately owned also are under contract for employee use.

Traffic consultant John Dietrich told the assembly that the developers will use signs to try to keep traffic away from the upper, residential portion of Bridge Street and moving toward Main Street, although, obviously, he said, some vehicles will continue to use East Street to access Bridge.

The latest plan, particularly the retention of the outer shell of the building, was clearly more palatable to a majority of commenters. Most praised the Mahida family for listening to the community's concerns.

Finance Committee member Sharon Gregory called this incarnation "a greatly improved plan," and thanked Mahida for being responsive to the community.

Not all concerns have been resolved, however.

Eve Shatz, who lives in the neighborhood, said she was worried about noise and any night entertainment the hotel might offer.

Although the hotel is in a business zone, she pointed out that the town's residential zone, "abuts right up against it."

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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