LENOX — A prominent developer of mixed-income housing is set to unveil a proposal for an 8.5-acre portion of the 68-acre Brushwood Farm property off Pittsfield Road (Route 7/20). The current asking price is nearly $4 million for the entire site, which has been on and off the market for 20 years.
A presentation by Pennrose LLC is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at a public Town Hall meeting of the town’s Affordable Housing Trust in order to seek support for the proposal. Pennrose, based in Philadelphia, has a regional office in Boston.
Pennrose was the runner-up applicant to develop a mixed-income housing complex at Sawmill Brook on Housatonic Street, across from Caligari’s Hardware and just off the state highway bypass. The proposal by the Berkshire Housing Development Corp. failed to win the necessary two-thirds supermajority at the 2019 annual town meeting, where it fell short by 73 votes amid intense local neighborhood opposition.
The Pennrose plan is for a Massachusetts Chapter 40B development. The state statute enables local zoning boards of appeals to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 20 to 25 percent of the units have long-term affordability restrictions.
The 68-acre property at 36 Pittsfield Road, which includes 25 acres zoned commercial and 43 acres residential, is owned by the Hashim family. The site, which still has a handful of small businesses, most recently went on the market in summer 2018, listed as a potential mixed-use commercial and residential development with an initial asking price of $4,950,000, but found no takers. Several months later, the price was reduced to $4.5 million.
Brushwood Farm is advertised for $3.8 million by Stone House Properties of West Stockbridge, which holds the exclusive listing. It is assessed at $2,620,000 this year, according to Town Hall records, with James R. Hashim as the trustee.
Listing agent Rich Aldrich told The Eagle that Pennrose is proposing to acquire 8.5 acres within the residentially zoned portion of the acreage. The development would include 55 to 60 units of housing.
“This is a very exciting proposal for the town of Lenox,” Aldrich said. “We’re very pleased, and so is the owner.”
Aldrich said several additional potential buyers are considering other slices of the site.
Since the town has not reached the state’s goal of 10 percent affordable units out of the total housing stock, the proposed project would bring the town much closer to that level, said Marybeth Mitts, who chairs the Affordable Housing Trust and also is on the Select Board.
Mitts told The Eagle that the proposal from Pennrose is for 65 units, with at least 50 at varying rates of workforce housing affordability. There also is a land donation to conserve open space attached to the potential sale, she added. An additional amenity is that the site is on the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority bus route to Pittsfield.
The town’s most recent Housing Production Plan, completed in 2017, showed Lenox was about 77 units short of the 10 percent target, she noted.
The Stone House listing touts high visibility along a heavily traveled highway with about 35,000 vehicle trips per day on a year-round average — 27,000 daily off-season and nearly 40,000 during the summer. It has two dedicated curb cuts, including a fully signaled intersection that also serves the adjacent Courtyard by Marriott and the Lenox Commons mixed-use commercial and residential complex across the roadway.
The property, which had been identified as the ideal location for a new public safety complex, is part of the town’s Gateway Mixed Use Development Overlay District. The district extends from East Dugway Road north to Lenox Commons, Lenox Fit and the Arcadian Shop.
Previously, it was marketed exclusively by The Shire Group for William Pitt Sotheby International Realty as "tailor-made for a developer who wishes to build a complex comprising private homes or condominiums, a grocery or anchor store, and/or smaller shops, a restaurant and office space."
A developer would need a special permit and site-plan approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals, including consideration of a project's effects on the aesthetics and character of the area.
The property used to be fronted by the historic Captain Oliver Root House dating from 1792, according to the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The Federal-style house, among the town’s oldest still standing, had hosted a restaurant, the Sweet Basil Grille, in the 1990s but has been vacant since then, deteriorated badly and was demolished last year.
Root established the farmhouse and outbuildings as a residence and the shop for his blacksmith business. He was among the town's early settlers, arriving from Southington, Conn., around 1778.
In 1797, he sold it, and after several private owners altered and expanded portions of the Root building, Brushwood Farm was purchased by a Pittsfield dentist, Dr. George Hashim, and his wife, June, in 1976 for $242,500 (nearly $1.2 million in today's dollars).
The site then was known as the Elizabeth Love Godwin estate, owned with her sister, Frances Godwin. They were great-granddaughters of 19th-century poet, author and editor William Cullen Bryant, who lived in Cummington.
A Lenox town meeting in October 1984 denied the Hashims' request to rezone the property from residential to commercial to build townhouses, convert the farmhouse into an inn and add a shopping area, according to state Historical Commission archives.
In 1988, the property had been considered by the Pyramid Investors Management Corp. of Syracuse, N.Y., with J.C. Penney or Montgomery Ward as potential anchors. Pyramid eventually built the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough, which opened in 1988.
The site — it was 75 acres before a 7-acre parcel was sold to the Toole family for $1,375,000 in late 2013 for its Marriott hotel project — has been on and off the market. In mid-2002, it was put on sale for $7.5 million but did not attract a buyer.