LENOX — A plan to build affordable and workforce rental housing on the Brushwood Farm property has widespread support, but the owners of an adjacent hotel want it moved farther away on the parcel.
During a three-hour remote Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Wednesday night, Canyon Ranch General Manager Mindi Morin suggested that the development would provide lower-cost housing for people employed in Lenox.
And Miraval Berkshires General Manager Victor Cappadona urged approval of the project to help resort staffers live in the town where few affordable housing choices are available.
“We are in desperate need of this development,” Cappadona wrote, “and while it may not be enough to support travel and tourism in the Berkshires, it would be a healthy start.”
The developer, Pennrose LLC, wants to build 13 townhouse buildings with 65 affordable and workforce long-term rental housing apartments on nearly 15 acres of vacant land off Pittsfield Road (Route 7/20). It is seeking a comprehensive permit under Chapter 40B, a provision of state law designed to help clear the way for affordable housing.
The estimated cost is upward of $30 million, not including the purchase price of the parcel at 36 Pittsfield Road owned by the Hashim family. Pennrose holds a purchase-and-sale option, pending ZBA approval.
Pennrose is seeking waivers from town bylaws on a variety of issues, including the number of units per building, setbacks and building height, to name a few. The ZBA needs to vote separately on each waiver requested if it approves the entire project.
Apartment units would be rented to qualified, income-eligible individuals and families, not to resorts to house their employees, and there would be no subletting allowed under the one-year, renewable leases.
While the project has won endorsements from town government leaders, members of the Toole family, owners of the adjacent Courtyard by Marriott hotel, raised a number of concerns about what they called “the detrimental nature of this large-scale project.” They cited the impact of construction on the hotel’s occupancy and disruption of the current guest experiences.
Marriott co-owner Colin Toole stressed that the family does not oppose development on the Brushwood property, and is not against affordable housing, but that the specific location is unacceptable under town bylaws.
Attorney Dennis Egan, representing the Tooles, questioned why the project could not have been sited on a Brushwood parcel farther from the hotel.
“To suggest that there are no other plausible sites on Brushwood Farm is just not accurate,” Egan stated. “If you moved this project elsewhere on Brushwood, many, if not all, of those waiver requests evaporate.”
Maria Smith, general manager of the Marriott, said the hotel would lose occupancy and money from the disruption of construction, although “the whole project is a great idea” if three of the buildings in direct sight could be moved.
In response, ZBA Chairman Robert Fuster Jr. pointed out, “We can’t deny a project just because it may have an adverse effect on a neighbor during construction. We can just try to alleviate some of those concerns.”
ZBA member Kimberly Duval, touting “the permanent values this project will place on the community,” stated that she will have “a tough time considering the short-term needs of the Courtyard, in my decision. … I would caution against so much criticism of a project that would have so much benefit.”
Select Board Chairwoman Marybeth Mitts, who also chairs the town’s Affordable Housing Trust, praised Pennrose for “very great work in addressing concerns about public safety and all the other concerns that could possibly come up. They have been very open to modifying the designs several times.”
Mitts also cited the project’s potential to bring young families into town as future homeowners whose children would attend the public schools.
Kate McNulty-Vaughan, a member of the Planning Board and the Affordable Housing Trust, seemed unmoved by the Tooles' concerns.
“Every time somebody does try to build something new in town, it’s very disruptive to neighbors,” she said. “You own what you own; somebody else owns the abutting property, and they have a right to develop it in a way that suits them, with whatever other strictures are in place.”
Zoning board member Albert Harper urged attorneys for the Tooles and Pennrose to find common ground.
“I want you to remember that the Toole family can appeal this, and it will set the timetable back considerably,” Harper said, adding that it’s in the best interest of Pennrose, the Tooles and the town to see what agreements can be worked out since “there’s a substantial cost to all parties” if agreements can’t be reached.
Zoning Board members will visit the site this month, specifically checking the view from the third floor of the Marriott as helium-filled balloons are floated to simulate the housing project buildings’ height.
The ZBA will reconvene for an expected decision at a 6 p.m. meeting Jan. 27.
This story has been modified to add a statement from the hotel's co-owner.