Ruling against rival hotelier clears way for Pittsfield Hilton
PITTSFIELD -- A key battle in what became known as the "hotel wars" has ended, but a new level of competition looms for rival lodging developers.
On Feb. 10, Berkshire Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ford granted a motion to summarily dismiss a lawsuit targeting the access driveway for a planned $8.2 million Hilton Garden Inn off South Street. The ruling could lead to construction of the hotel this year and an opening in 2015.
The suit was filed in May 2013 by a corporate entity with links to a rival hotel developer that owns a small parcel along the shared accessway. The action sought to block its use for the 95-room Hilton inn planned by developer Vijaysinh N. Mahida at 1032 South St., a site behind Guido’s Fresh Marketplace and located about 270 feet from the highway.
Eastern States Real Estate Management, LLC, which filed the suit, has ties to Joseph M. Toole of Toole Lodging Group Inc. Toole has acknowledged that he was seeking to protect his business interests through Eastern States Real Estate Management.
At the time, Toole was planning a 92-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel on Dan Fox Drive, a short distance from the Hilton site. After an environmental challenge related to wetlands on that parcel stalled the project, Toole focused on a site on Routes 7 and 20 in Lenox, and this week won a special permit from the town Zoning Board of Appeals.
"I am very pleased that Judge Ford recognized in his decision that Joe Toole filed the ESREM lawsuit just to delay my Hilton Garden Inn project," Mahida said in a statement released Friday. "We are happy that Mr. Toole’s lawsuit has been dismissed."
He said an opening next spring is planned for the Hilton inn, which has received a building permit from the city. If Toole’s Marriott project receives all necessary approvals and is constructed this year, as proposed, competition could move in 2015 to attracting customers for similar upscale hotels.
Attorney William E. Martin, of Martin, Oliveira & Hamel, who defended Mahida and his firm, Prem Management Inc., in the lawsuit, said when asked about the possibility of further appeals: "There is always the chance of an appeal, but given the language of Judge Ford’s decision, I do not see any basis to appeal."
Toole, asked the same question Friday, responded via email: "Who knows?"
In his conclusion, Ford said in part: "There is no evidence in the record that Prem [Management] has interfered with ESREM’s rights to use and enjoy its property, or that its conduct has been negligent, reckless or ultrahazardous. Finally, ESREM has not alleged that it has suffered damages which are anything other than speculative. Prem is entitled to summary judgment on this count as well."
Ford also said in his decision that "there is no actual, genuine controversy between the parties. It is clear that whatever controversy may exist has been concocted by ESREM in an attempt to derail Prem’s plans to construct a Hilton Garden Inn on its premises."
Concerning traffic issues raised in the suit, Ford said Eastern States knew when it purchased its undeveloped parcel on the shared 40-foot-wide accessway that a Hilton hotel was planned and that a hotel is a "by-right" use in the area.
"It bears repeating," Ford added concerning the expected traffic to the site, "that Prem plans to erect a 95-room Hilton Garden Inn, not Caesar’s Palace or some other mega resort hotel."
Both corporations purchased their abutting parcels off South Street on May 1, 2013.
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