At 'sketch plan review,' Select Board will get first DeSisto redevelopment pitch since proposal's inception

FILE PHOTO. The DeSisto property in Stockbridge is the site of a proposed development by Patrick Sheehan, Tony Guthrie and Rob Akroyd that would transform the abandoned property into a hotel and residential properties. The DeSisto School closed in 2004.

STOCKBRIDGE — The next chapter in the prolonged saga surrounding the proposed $150 million resort complex at the former DeSisto Estate unfolds this this evening when the Select Board gets an overview of the developers' plan for the 320-acre site at 37 Interlaken Road (Route 183).

Described as a "sketch plan review," it's the first official, detailed presentation at a Select Board meeting since the concept was rolled out informally at a December 2016 meeting.

But ever since, the concept of a 40- to 50-room hotel in the renovated and expanded mansion, 139 condos in six new buildings and 34 clustered single-family houses has been the primary topic of conversation in town.

Since the current version of the 37 Interlaken group's proposal would require a Cottage Era Estate bylaw change, a Planning Board subcommittee is engaged in a painstaking review of the town's entire zoning regulations.

Property owner Patrick Sheehan and his team recently withdrew their version of a bylaw change that would allow their project to move forward, subject to possible Planning Board approval and a decisive town meeting vote.

Instead, the Select Board will scrutinize the developers' plan for the site as part of tonight's 7 p.m. meeting to be held in the Town Offices gymnasium, since a large crowd is expected.

At last Monday's board session, members debated whether, and to what extent, public discussion should be part of the upcoming meeting.

Vocal opponents of the project, including a group of neighbors, argue that the size and scale of the proposed resort would destroy the character not only of the rural Interlaken neighborhood overlooking Stockbridge Bowl but of the entire town, with major impacts on traffic flow, congestion and infrastructure.

Supporters, including the Chamber of Commerce, contend that the project would be a major economic benefit for the town. They cite the developers' projection of over $2.4 million a year in tax revenue as well as 115-145 full-time year-round jobs and another 165-220 seasonal jobs for the area's vital hospitality industry.

Last Monday, Selectmen Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo and Terry Flynn voiced a preference to put off public discussion to a subsequent evening.

"I'd like to digest everything first before any public discussion at this meeting," Cardillo suggested.

"So you don't want any public discussion at this meeting?" Select Board Chairman Donald Chabon countered.

"I think we need time to go over it and come up with our opinions," Cardillo responded. "We don't want a debate at this point because we don't have the answers."

"This is an opportunity for us to discuss the project, to ask questions, but it's not a negotiation, we're just going to generate ideas between the applicant and us," said Flynn.

Those ideas would be relayed to the Planning Board and its Zoning Review group for further analysis, he added, as part of their Cottage Era Estate bylaw discussions.

Flynn pointed out that certain aspects of the 37 Interlaken proposal would comply with the existing bylaw, while others "are more questionable."

Under the current bylaw, a hotel and one single-family home is allowed on a Cottage Era estate, but not the condos and clustered housing complex sought by Sheehan and his managing partner Tony Guthrie.

"This is an opportunity to raise different possibilities, potential problems, solutions or whatever," Flynn explained.

Chabon agreed that today's presentation should generate items for consideration by the Planning Board and its zoning review group.

For the developers, "this is a nonbinding way for them to come in and say this is what they're looking at before going to the next step," Town Administrator Danielle Fillio commented.

Chabon suggested limited public discussion after the applicants' presentation and followup discussion by the board, and the three members agreed to allow a half hour for public comment tonight.

Planning Board Chairman Gary Pitney urged the Select Board to be open to continuing the public discussion at a second meeting in order to avoid time limitations.

"But I agree you folks should have first crack at it to ask all the questions you need and want to ask," he said.

Eventually, any revised zoning bylaw proposed by the Planning Board would require two-thirds approval at an annual or special town meeting.

Also on the agenda is potential approval of a study costing at least $15.000 on downtown traffic and pedestrian safety, likely to be conducted by Fuss & O'Neill, the regional engineering firm with an office in Springfield and nine other New England locations. Voter approval of the funding would be included on the warrant for the annual town meeting May 21.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.