LENOX — Representatives of a proposed auto dealership on Route 7/20 have revised their plans in an effort to try to soften up opposition from some neighbors.
But whether those changes have moved the needle remains unclear and the company still faces a long road ahead.
The McGee Automotive Family is seeking four special-permit approvals for its $14 million project to move its Berkshire BMW and Audi-VW dealership out of Pittsfield to a 4-acre commercial parcel at Pittsfield and New Lenox roads that is currently the site of Different Drummers Kitchen. It would raze seven existing structures that already are town-approved for demolition.
Will a Pittsfield auto dealership’s proposed move to Lenox win town approval? Here's the zoning board's first look at the plan
The zoning board resumed its hybrid public hearing at Town Hall on Wednesday night, with area residents questioning the project’s safety, impact on the environment, the local economy and on neighborhood property values. The ZBA has received 32 letters — 25 opposed, seven in favor.
Attorney Jeffrey Lynch, representing the McGee regional chain based in Hanover, unveiled a proposed traffic realignment for access to the dealership from Pittsfield and New Lenox roads.
Under the revised plan, which was also submitted to the state Department of Transportation:
• A gated access driveway from New Lenox Road would be restricted to delivery trucks leaving the site for right turns only, proceeding to the traffic signal at Pittsfield Road.
• Customers approaching from the south would enter the facility turning right onto a Pittsfield Road curb cut. Departing traffic, using a second curb cut, would be limited to northbound, right turns only until they can reverse course.
• Motorists from Pittsfield and other points north would encounter a new raised traffic island and then make a state-approved U-turn at the New Lenox Road traffic signal, using the existing turning lane and then entering the facility from the state highway’s curb cut.
Lynch also asserted, based on what he called “non-scientific research,” that neighborhood property values would not be affected negatively by the dealership, citing recent transactions in the Elm Court area on Old Stockbridge Road and on Crystal Street in Lenox Dale.
He also announced the developer’s commitment to mounting rooftop solar panels on the two dealership buildings.
Representing the Rolling Hills Condominium board of trustees, attorney Elisabeth Goodman indicated that the gated-access entry from New Lenox Road would be acceptable if limited to one truck per day delivering vehicles, as long as smaller trucks make car parts deliveries only after normal business hours.
ZBA member Kimberly Duval cited improvements in the project plan, especially the solar roof installation and the compromise on traffic safety.
“I’m really happy with the McGee dealership and the Rolling Hills trustees for stepping outside comfort zones, having the tough discussions, and coming to a nice resolution that will make this a really great project,” she said.
The public comment portion of the meeting again featured a variety of opinions on the project.
Dr. Sander Rabin, of the Yokun Brook condo development, called the project “mammoth” rather than “boutique,” and asserted it would have “an unprecedented adverse impact” on the surrounding residential area. He cited a lack of auto industry regulation with no assurance of safety.
George Haddad, owner of the Toyota, Hyundai and Subaru franchises in Pittsfield, noted his friendship with the McGees and described their dealerships as “quality operations, they’re all about family and the community, and they would be an asset to Lenox.”
Different Drummer’s Kitchen owner Andrew Meisberger called the current properties at the proposed site challenged.
“You’re being offered a gift here, to fix something that’s only going to get worse if you do nothing,” he told the zoning board members. “So, please, I’m begging you, consider this a gift and don’t look at it in the mouth.”
But Rolling Hills resident Marcie Schneider voiced concern about safety, especially with more children living at Rolling Hills and using school buses stopping on New Lenox Road. “I don’t want to have to wait until a major accident happens for somebody to realize this is not a great idea,” she said.
For Sharon Costello of New Lenox Road, “it’s a very large project for a very small group of parcels.” She suggested splitting up the two buildings comprising the dealership, relocating one across Pittsfield Road on property that might be available there. Costello was referring to the closed car wash and the adjacent, long-vacant Five Chairs restaurant.
“I trust the ZBA to use good judgment in this case,” said Nina Esaki of the Yokun Brook development. “The best outcomes for communities are when all stakeholders’ challenges and concerns are addressed. All their voices ought to be heard and considered, and I’m confident a desired outcome can be reached.”
Lynch, the McGee group’s attorney, emphasized long-term plans favored by the Lenox Conservation Commission to clean up and revitalize Yokun Brook behind the proposed project, including removal of invasive species. The commission will meet on April 6 to continue its scrutiny.
He pointed out that before the project could go forward, approvals are needed from the zoning board, conservation commission, town departments and MassDOT. “Hopefully, it all jells and fits together, and that’s up to us to figure out,” he said. “That is a part of the burden we have and are accepting as we move forward.”
The ZBA will resume its public hearing on April 27 at 7 p.m.