Waubeeka resort plan faces further Planning Board delays
WILLIAMSTOWN — A bylaw under consideration to allow a hotel at Waubeeka Golf Links will not include a conservation restriction that the owner said would have killed the project.
But after the fifth meeting in six months on the issue, the Planning Board again voted to table the proposed bylaw to seek further details on the design plans.
The delay calls into question whether the bylaw could be ready in time to be presented to Town Meeting in May. If not, the project could be delayed for another year.
The proposed bylaw would create a commercial overlay district and allow the owner to apply to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a special permit to build a hotel/resort on part of the 200-acre golf course parcel and in the Five Corners neighborhood.
Owner Mike Deep is proposing to build a $45 million hotel with restaurant, swimming pool and tennis courts, on part of a parcel on the north side of the golf course. He has noted that the golf course has lost $4 million in the last six years, a pattern that is not sustainable. The hotel would generate more revenue, for both the golf course and the town economy, and make the business viable again.
The South Williamstown property is part of a rural residential zone, which doesn't allow a hotel. Under the current zoning, Deep would be free to redevelop the property for residential use if the golf course went out of business.
Neighborhood residents are concerned that a hotel might degrade the flavor of the "pristine open space" of the southern gateway into Williamstown, and that the bylaw leaves the owner too much latitude in designing the structure.
After debating the bylaw for more than three hours at a Planning Board meeting two weeks ago, the discussion was tabled until Tuesday's meeting, at which time the board would adjust the language in the bylaw to satisfy concerns expressed by some members.
But before that discussion could continue, Planning Board Vice Chairwoman Ann McCallum made a motion to table the discussion again.
Her motion also sought a conservation restriction on 80 percent of the Waubeeka property and a requirement that the owner provide detailed plans and a professional marketing study on the need for hotel rooms in the Northern Berkshires.
The motion also would require the name and credentials of the partner/developer enlisted to complete the project. And it specifically stated that an engineering study would not be required.
Deep's attorney, Stanley Parese, has repeatedly said that a conservation restriction would likely kill the project. After lengthy discussion, the board agreed to delete the conservation restriction from McCallum's motion. But the requirements for more information about viability and design were kept in the motion to table, after lengthy debate about a lack of details on Deep's plans.
"I don't think we're asking for something they wouldn't have to do anyway," said board member Sarah Gardner. "If we're going to go there, we should be very cautious."
Board Chairwoman Amy Jeschawitz and board member Chris Winters expressed concern that requiring such detailed information so early in the process puts an unnecessary burden on the owner and sends a negative signal to others considering doing business in Williamstown.
"When 'more information' is just a code to more delays and more expense, then what are we saying to other entrepreneurs?" Winter asked.
The motion to table the measure passed 3-2.
For the bylaw on the proposed overlay district to pass, four of the five members of the Planning Board would need to vote in favor. The bylaw would then go to the Select Board for review before returning to the Planning Board for final approval. It would then require a two-thirds majority vote at the next town meeting.
If the bylaw is ultimately approved at town meeting, the Waubeeka proposal would have to go to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a special permit, at which time more specific plans and designs would be drawn up and introduced.
Deep, who has owned Waubeeka since 2014, noted that the goal for the proposed building is to be "100 percent self-sustained and environmentally friendly using a combination of three possible methodologies — solar panels on the roof, on a parking canopy and/or a solar array located on 67 acres off the 13th hole."
He has also committed to make the project "an environmentally sustainable project that is designed and constructed to meet or exceed the design criteria set forth in the existing National Register of Historic Places designating documents for the surrounding Five Corners neighborhood."
Deep has said he still needs to secure developers and investors for the project, and has pointed out that it could expand the town's tax base and provide new jobs in the area.