Searles School hotel project gains approval of Great Barrington Selectboard

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GREAT BARRINGTON — The proposed $25 million hotel project at the former Searles Middle School is a go.

After three continuations, several revisions and considerable discussion among town officials and residents, the Selectboard on Monday night voted unanimously in a special meeting at Monument Mountain Regional High School to approve the application by 79 Bridge Street, LLC.

The hotel, to be called "The Berkshire," has the potential to bring up to $450,000 in room and real estate tax revenue to the town.

The initial Nov. 9 application by the Vijay and Chrystal Mahida to the selectmen generated angst among some residents. The Berkshire was modeled, in part, after the former Berkshire Hotel on Main Street, which was badly damaged by fire several decades ago.

Following the 40-minute hearing Monday, Selectmen Chairman Sean Stanton congratulated the developers for their willingness to compromise.

"I don't think everyone got everything they wanted," Stanton said, "but we got there in the end. It was kind of a win-win situation."

The initial design called for the vacant historic building on Bridge Street to be razed and for the hotel to be built on its foundation.

The Mahidas thought it a tribute to a former Main Street institution. But some residents decried what they saw as its antiseptic feel. A protest went up for the developers to retain the exterior of the 100-year-old structure.

The plan was tweaked in December to preserve the facade of the building. Then last month, another revision called for the preservation all four outer walls of the main structure. That change also reduced the number of rooms from 95 to 88.

The Mahidas also listened to the town's attorneys.

The special permit application had been allowed in the first place after the town's Historical Commission granted a waiver on the number of rooms — a town bylaw sets a 45-room limit on new hotel projects in the downtown.

That waiver was based on assurances that the developers would retain some of the building's historical features.

Following the initial application, town counsel suggested, at the request of the selectmen, that while that board had leeway to make the final decision on the application, the amount of historical preservation should factor in that decision.

Vijay Mahida also is pursuing development of a 100-suite, extended stay hotel and meeting center on the site of the decrepit 120-room Magnuson Hotel off Routes 7 and 20 in Lenox. The former Econo Lodge and Holiday Inn just north of the business district would be torn down if his plan is approved.

Mahida also developed the 95-room Hilton Garden Inn, which opened earlier last year near Guido's Fresh Marketplace on South Street in Pittsfield.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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