Stockbridge committee aims to clarify, simplify zoning bylaws

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STOCKBRIDGE — With a goal of simplifying and clarifying the town's often-complex zoning bylaws, a working group of town officials has embarked on what it sees as a mission possible.

The Zoning Bylaw Ad Hoc Review Committee is holding twice-monthly meetings to review zoning guidelines, emphasizing how they're defined, co-Chairwoman Ruth Pearce said in an interview.

The five-member committee, a subgroup of the Planning Board, held its first meeting recently to organize the setup of its open public meetings.

"The members will have their own discussion and will invite comments from the public toward the end of each meeting," she said. "For us, these are working sessions."

Many in town are keeping a close eye on the committee's progress, since a review of the Cottage Era estate bylaw is expected in light of the pending 37 Interlaken resort at the former DeSisto Estate on Route 183. The developers, property owner Patrick Sheehan and managing partner Tony Guthrie, have held open houses to present their ideas for the potential project, though no special permit application has yet been filed with the Select Board.

The plan calls for a full-service resort with 40 to 50 rooms and a restaurant in the restored and expanded mansion, originally part of the Beckwith Estate. The complex would include 139 flexible hotel-condominium suites in six new buildings adjacent to the inn, which could be rented out by the owners through the hotel office.

Based on market demand, 34 clustered single-family houses would be built in the rear, wooded section of the property.

The estimated total investment could be $150 million, the developers have stated, including a working farm as part of an "agri-hood" setting.

The zoning review committee will meet on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 5:30 p.m. at the Town Offices meeting room, adjacent to the gymnasium. Agendas will be posted one week before each meeting at the Town Offices bulletin board and online at townofstockbridge.com. The agenda for the next meeting, Oct. 23, is posted.

At the first meeting, Pearce said, "we reviewed definitions and reached a consensus that they are confusing and incomplete in the zoning bylaw."

Asked whether the Cottage Era estate bylaw would be a top priority, Pearce stated that "we will take input from people on what priorities should be, then discuss that as a committee. The entire zoning bylaw is due for a look-over, and we're not setting any priority so far."

She pointed out that the committee is not seeking to change the purpose of the zoning bylaw.

"That's the framework," she said. "We're checking to see whether what we have is functioning well and serves its purpose, and then we'll focus on what aspects of the bylaw need potential revision or clarification."

There's no set timetable for completing the study, Pearce added.

"Until we dig into it, it's hard to envisage how long the review might take," she said. But "there isn't anything to stop us from bringing to the full Planning Board proposed amendments as we go."

At last week's Select Board meeting, Chairman Donald Chabon stated that "this is an environment with much vested interest, and I would urge that committee to keep in touch with the town counsel if there are any questions or issues, and keep in touch with the town administrator and the full Planning Board along the way."

The review committee is co-chaired by Pearce and by Kate Fletcher, both Planning Board members; the others on the committee are Jim Murray of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Carl Sprague of the Historic Preservation Committee and John Hart of the Conservation Commission.

Last winter, town planners hit the reset button on efforts to change Cottage Era estate zoning rules, after several contentious Select Board and Zoning Board meetings highlighted by strong opposition to the resort project voiced by some neighbors.

In February, the Planning Board voted 7-0 to send proposed revisions prepared for the May 15 annual town meeting by then-Selectman Stephen Shatz and town attorneys back to square one.

The decision to form a working group to examine the zoning bylaws followed in March.

The mission of the bylaws includes calls for action based on local or state codes, legislation and regulations "for the protection and enhancement of the town's existing small-town character, open spaces, low density of population and in the interests of the town's orderly growth at a deliberate pace."

Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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