LENOX — A long-established Pittsfield veterinary clinic hopes to relocate into the long-vacant restaurant building at the entrance to the Lenox Commons mixed-use development on Pittsfield Road (Route 7/20).
South Street Veterinary Services has applied for zoning board approval leading to a purchase of the building that formerly housed Bobby Mac’s, Jae’s Asian Bistro, Bennigan’s and two other short-lived eateries since the demise of the Lenox House restaurant in 2002. The building is owned by hotelier Navin Shah’s BHG Group LLC.
Shah also is the owner, separately, of Lenox Commons, which contains an antiques emporium, the On a Roll Cafe, Chocolate Springs, a martial arts studio, hair salon, barbershop, pet boutique, professional offices and other retail establishments, as well as several medical practices and clinics, including Berkshire Medical Center’s Lenox Family Health. At the rear of the site are the 41 Lenox Woods condominium units whose residents are represented by a homeowners association.
The Zoning Board of Appeals will review the special permit petition to operate a professional office, as submitted by Lenox attorney Jeffrey Lynch on behalf of Dr. Raymond Reiners, owner and operator of the South Street clinic, during the board’s meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 1.
The full-service practice, opened in Lenox by Dr. Andrew Breslin in 1976, moved to its current 864 South St. site in 1981. Breslin remains on the staff of the facility.
The complex is within the Lenox Gateway Mixed Use Development Overlay District, which aims to “foster a greater opportunity for creative development by providing guidelines which encourage a mix of uses compatible with existing and neighboring properties.”
While the district’s bylaws prohibit an animal hospital that provides walk-in, 24-hour emergency care and overnight stays, there is no provision in the town’s zoning bylaws either allowing or prohibiting a veterinary practice, which has defined days and hours of operation.
The applicant is seeking a waiver from all submission requirements for a new mixed-use development because Lenox Commons fully is constructed and his client simply is proposing to change the use of an existing building, according to the petition to the ZBA.
In his application, Lynch noted that the overlay district specifically allows offices of physicians, dentists, attorneys, architects, engineers, accountants and other professional practitioners. The requested special permit would align with the standards for operating a professional office, he stated.
At its Aug. 10 meeting, the Planning Board approved the change of use for the 7,000-square-foot building, pointing out that the veterinary practice is not classified as an animal hospital.
In his petition, Lynch compared a veterinary office to a physician’s practice, adding that it is “properly classified as a professional office and not an animal hospital.”
The Planning Board has submitted a letter to the ZBA recommending approval of the project.
“After discussion and research, the board determined that it believes the use ‘veterinary clinic’ is quite similar to the eligible use ‘offices of physicians, dentists…’ and, as such, should be seen as an eligible use within the Gateway District,” the letter stated. “We also believe a veterinary clinic use is consistent with the Gateway’s intended purposes.”
The board’s letter also noted that the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association refers to its members as “veterinary medical professionals” and that, according to town bylaws, “veterinary clinics” are distinct from “animal hospitals” and “kennels,” which house their four-legged clients overnight.
Lynch’s petition states that there are no proposed changes to the exterior of the building, except for replacement of an existing fence at the back of the site to enclose a dog-walking area, which would be supervised by clinic staff.
He noted that traffic flow and safety, including parking and loading, would comply fully with zoning bylaw requirements.
Lynch also stated that community needs are served by the proposed clinic, which would serve clients among the town’s 520 registered canines and uncounted felines and would not offer boarding or grooming services. The animals would not be outside, unless leashed and attended to by clinic personnel.
The hours of operation would be 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to noon Saturday and closed Sunday.
Since the town does not have a veterinary office for dogs and cats, Lynch wrote, “it would be a great convenience for Lenox residents to have a local, in-town veterinarian.”
The petition states that the practice currently serves 40 to 60 dogs and cats daily by appointment, equating to about five to eight vehicles per hour. The site has 27 paved and 13 gravel parking spaces, more than the required 23 slots.
Lynch contended that the improved property would enhance the neighborhood’s character.
“Many restaurants have occupied this property during the past 15 years,” he wrote. “The constant change with periods of vacancy is detrimental to the development and the Town. 55 Pittsfield Road is a very prominent location in Lenox. When this space is vacant, it casts an image that the rest of the site may not contain businesses or offices that are viable, and therefore discourages patrons from entering the property to investigate and ‘window-shop’ other businesses.”
Last fall, a proposal for a recreational marijuana store at the building was withdrawn by Shah, the owner of the site, after intense opposition by the development’s condo association. Instead, he suggested a new location in a retail complex at 439 Pittsfield Road, which the ZBA approved in December. Kapha Cannabis, the first retail marijuana establishment in Lenox, adjacent to Electra’s Cafe, Papa John’s pizzeria and Berkshire Dogs Unleashed, is aiming to open by early October.