Waubeeka's owner's latest hotel compromise still not enough for opponents
WILLIAMSTOWN >> New compromise, same roadblock.
That was the result of the latest effort to find middle ground on developer Mike Deep's plan to build a hotel at the site of his Waubeeka Golf Links.
Deep, who proposed the plan last fall, has been unable to get the Planning Board to sign off on a zoning change to allow the project.
In March, he filed a citizens petition on the project to be presented directly to voters at the May 17 annual town meeting.
And he has since offered to amend that petition in an effort to make it more palatable to opponents. He said he would cap the size of the proposed hotel at 120 rooms on about 10 acres of his golf course property in South Williamstown — down from an initial 40 acres.
Still, opponents were not moved.
So Town Manager Jason Hoch recently set out to "recalibrate and get an amendment to Town Meeting that has been properly vetted."
After gathering input from neighbors, he offered a list of proposed changes to the Planning Board this week "as a starting point — a sincere offer to help move this process along."
But as in previous attempts at compromise, two main sticking points remain: the size of the proposed hotel and some neighbors' insistence on a permanent conservation restriction on the property.
Deep wants to build the hotel to make the golf course financially sustainable. The facility is steadily losing money and likely will go out of business, leaving about 40 employees without jobs, and South Williamstown without a golf course.
And since the area is currently zoned as residential, Deep has said he would consider redeveloping the land as a residential subdivision if the golf course fails.
Adding a hotel, however, would be his preference.
The compromise amendment drafted by Hoch added language that ties the size of the hotel structure to placing a conservation restriction on acreage owned by the golf course.
Deep, through his attorney Stanley Parese, has repeatedly made it clear that a conservation restriction on any part of the golf course land was unacceptable.
The new proposed amendment allows up to 20,000 square feet of building space, with a conservation restriction on 67 acres of unused golf course property. For every 1,000 square feet added to the building space, another 4 acres would be added to the conservation restriction. It places a maximum building area at 50,000 square feet.
According to that proposed formula, if the hotel was to be built at 50,000 square feet, more than 100 acres of the 200-acre golf course property would be under permanent conservation restriction — a nonstarter for Deep.
Limiting the size of the structure to 50,000 square feet also is unworkable, he said, as it still doesn't allow room for the event spaces, restaurant, club house and other associated golf course needs, along with the hotel rooms.
In his eyes, the 20,000 square foot cap on building space also is unworkable. Information provided by the town's community development department shows that the Country Club of Pittsfield has 22,000 square feet of building space — and it doesn't have any hotel rooms.
Currently, Waubeeka has slightly less than 10,000 square feet of building space.
Andrew Groff, director of community development, pointed out that the square footage numbers in the document were just placeholders, that the actual numbers should be determined by the Planning Board.
But board member Ann McCallum said the square footage was a number derived by neighbors who had studied average sizes of country inns, which is how Deep initially characterized the project. She, along with board members Sarah Gardner and Elizabeth McGowan thought requiring a conservation restriction was fair to the town and the property owner.
"To a lot of people, this proposal is troubling without a conservation restriction," McCallum said.
"I'm just worried that the [building size] will get so big we'll be right back where we were before with a proposal no one will support," Gardner said. "Twenty thousand feet seems like more than enough to meet the initial vision [Deep] brought to us in the fall."
Amy Jeschawitz, chairwoman of the Planning Board, felt the building requirements were too stringent, and she objected to requiring a property owner to restrict parts of his property.
"To me, 20,000 square feet is too small," she said. "I'd like it to be higher. And I have a hard time putting a stipulation in that you have to have a conservation restriction in order to do this. In my mind that's a choice, an option, but not a requirement."
"We have to give them enough space for the project to be successful," Jeschawitz added.
Following the meeting, attorney Parese reiterated the property owner's objection to any conservation restrictions.
He said such restrictions on golf courses are conventionally accompanied by allowances to build and sell residential units on the golf course property. Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort in Lenox, for example, not only has hotel accommodations, but more than 100 privately owned condominium units. And if Deep were to accept a conservation restriction, and the golf course business still fails, Deep or some future owner would need the land for other possible uses.
"Clearly, there is no way the entire golf course is going into conservation restriction," Parese said. "That can't happen. We do not exist in some kind of economic wonderland."
What's next ...
The Planning Board will resume the discussion at a special meeting April 28 at Town Hall.
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