Williamstown Planning Board tables Waubeeka bylaw proposal again

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WILLIAMSTOWN — After spending time at five meetings over a six-month period discussing the idea, the Planning Board again voted to table a proposed bylaw to seek further information.

The proposed bylaw, if passed by the Planning Board and passed at town meeting by a two-thirds majority, would create a commercial overlay district on the 200-acre Waubeeka Golf Links, and allow the owner to apply to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a special permit to build a "high-end" $45 million hotel/resort in the Five Corners neighborhood on part of the golf course property.

Before attempting to complete the task of rewriting the bylaw to satisfy concerns of some of the board members, board vice chair Ann McCallum moved that the bylaw consideration be tabled until a conservation restriction is required as part of the bylaw, and that the owner provide detailed plans and a professional marketing study on the need for hotel rooms in the Northern Berkshires.

It would also require the name and credentials of the partner/developer enlisted to complete the project. The motion specifically stated that an engineering study would not be required.

After lengthy discussion, the board agreed to delete the requirement for a conservation restriction on 80 percent of the property, as the attorney for Deep, Stanley Parese, had repeatedly said that a conservation restriction would likely kill the project.

But the requirements for more information about viability and design were kept in the motion, after lengthy debate about a lack of details on Deep's plans.

The motion passed 3 to 2.

Owner Michael Deep is proposing to build a hotel, with restaurant, swimming pool and tennis courts, on part of a parcel on the north side of the golf course. Deep, through his attorney Parese, noted that the 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.

Under its current zoning, if the golf course went out of business, Deep would be free to redevelop the property for residential use under the existing rural zoning designation.

Neighborhood residents were concerned that a hotel might degrade the flavor of the "pristine open space" of the southern gateway into Williamstown, and that the bylaw left the owner too much latitude in designing the structure.

Four of the five members of the Planning Board would need to vote in favor to approve the proposal. If the bylaw is approved by the Planning Board, it would go to the Select Board for any suggestions they might like to make. It would then come back to the Planning Board for final approval, and then would be included as an article on the warrant for the next town meeting.

Town meeting voters would have to approve the new bylaw with a 2/3 majority. 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.

North Adams developer Michael Deep has owned Waubeeka since 2014.

In his proposal, Deep 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."

Deep 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."

The Waubeeka property in South Williamstown is part of a rural residential zone, which doesn't allow a hotel.

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.


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