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A high-end Pittsfield auto dealer wants to move to Lenox. Will town officials approve the multimillion-dollar project?

LENOX — Zoning board members will gather today to inspect the site targeted by a luxury-brand auto dealership proposing a multimillion dollar relocation from Pittsfield to the commercial strip on Route 7/20.

The site visit slated for 3:15 p.m. at the intersection of Pittsfield and New Lenox roads is open to the public, ZBA Chairman Robert Fuster has said. But there will be no discussion or board deliberation during the tour of the property that includes the Different Drummer’s Kitchen store and three adjacent residences.

All four would be torn down if the McGee Automotive Family’s project wins a special permit and site plan approval from the zoning board as well as a green light from the Conservation Commission.

McGee, a regional chain based in Hanover, wants to relocate its Berkshire Audi, BMW and VW dealership, now on Merrill Road in Pittsfield, to a 4-acre Lenox location in a mixed commercial and residential area on the east side of Pittsfield Road (Route 7/20).

The company founded in 1970 has 17 locations in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont. It purchased the former Flynn Volkswagen Audi BMW at 600 Merrill Road in February 2021 for $3.5 million.

The 210-page special permit application for the project in a commercially zoned site at 374, 384 and 388 Pittsfield Road, as well as 11 New Lenox Road, outlines construction of “boutique dealerships for BMW, Audi and Volkswagen,” and expansion of existing parking facilities. It also calls for “reclamation” of the riverfront area along Yokun Brook in a 100-year floodplain at the rear of the site.

Pittsfield auto dealership map (copy)

Some neighbors living in the nearby Rolling Hills and Yokun Brook condo developments have signaled opposition to the proposal. On file at Town Hall is a total of 20 letters to the ZBA and Conservation Commission, nearly all negative except for one of support from the owners of Arizona Pizza on Pittsfield Road.

Earlier this month, the ZBA unanimously approved the relocation of the Berkshire Mazda dealership, on East Street in Pittsfield since 2007, to the 1.4-acre site of the Knights Inn and adjoining land owned by the Howard Johnson motel on Route 7/20 (Pittsfield Road), north of the Holmes Road intersection.

Knights Inn would be demolished, but the Howard Johnson motel will remain, minus 17,000 square feet of land being acquired by Berkshire Mazda proprietor Jim Salvie’s 474 Pittsfield Road LLC. The project represents an investment of more than $5 million, including purchase of the site and construction costs. The 14,500-square-foot dealership, including a showroom, outdoor sales area and a service facility, is expected to open in 2024.

Here are some of the details in the McGee special permit and site plan application for Berkshire Audi-BMW-VW:

• One new 17,500-square-foot building will house the BMW showroom, along with sales, services, offices and related business facilities.

• A second, 24,000-square-foot building for the Audi/VW dealerships also includes showroom, sales, service, office and related facilities. Lighting for both buildings will be downward, directional and shielded. After the dealerships close at 6 p.m., lighting will be minimized.

• An existing commercial garage near Yokun Brook would be torn down and the riverfront area restored, with debris and invasive species on the west side of the waterway removed. “This area will be vegetated with native species to improve riverfront habitat,” according to the application.

• McGee Automotive is proposing 139 parking spaces, one more than required by the town for the large retail buildings.

• Two new curb cuts from Pittsfield Road will accommodate two driveways, replacing seven existing curb cuts, including three on New Lenox Road to be closed and not replaced.

• A traffic study prepared by Fuss and O’Neill civil engineers states that the site will be safer than it is now because of fewer curb cuts and elimination of access from New Lenox Road.

• The town has already approved demolition of the four existing structures on the site, the McGee application states. All owners of those structures have signed off on the potential deal.

The application asserts that the project would be beneficial to the town, bringing in 30 full-time and five part-time well-paid professionals as part of a multimillion dollar investment.

A positive impact on the natural environment is expected, the applicant states, since “the current site use places Yokun Brook and the Housatonic River System at risk. McGee will correct this dangerous condition and create improvements that will enhance the riverfront area, while also providing new green space with pedestrian access to Yokun Brook.”

Several dozen Rolling Hills and Yokun Brook condo owners showed up for a scheduled ZBA public hearing at Town Hall on Jan. 4 that was postponed pending the site visit. That hearing is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 8 at in the Town Hall auditorium. The Conservation Commission’s review is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the same location.

Lengthy letters to the ZBA and the Conservation Commission from Yokun Brook condo owner Sander Rabin include objections to the scale of the proposed project, which he views as far from a “boutique-type store.”

Rabin contends the dealership would increase traffic as well as noise, air, light, ground and water pollution, posing a “potential threat to endangered species.”

His letter asserts that the project “will certainly decrease surrounding residential real estate values, and will most likely be destructive of the surrounding residential community.”

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com.

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