LENOX — The Zoning Board of Appeals has flashed a second green light for a mixed-use, downtown development project.
The board, which was under a Berkshire Superior Court order to review its previous decision, voted unanimously Wednesday night to reaffirm its previous special permit granted last January for Nathan and Kathryn Winstanley’s Windrose complex at 114 Main St.
The project, estimated at between $15 million and $20 million, includes renovation of the 1790 Northrup House and the construction of three new buildings featuring 26 high-end condos on the 3.26-acre property. One of them would house several street-level businesses or offices.
Local architect Jim Harwood’s lawsuit against the board and the town appealing the ZBA’s original approval of the plan remains in the hands of Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins.
The latest ZBA decision — prepared by board member Shawn Leary Considine, Land Use Director and Town Planner Gwen Miller and Town Counsel Joel Bard — will be filed with the court within two weeks.
“We are very pleased that the board allowed the public ample time to express their views on the project,” the Winstanleys’ attorney William E. Martin told The Eagle on Thursday. “The fact that the board was unanimous in its decision to reaffirm the special permit and to unanimously reject each of the technical arguments made by Mr. Harwood demonstrates that the project has been well-planned and will be very successful.”
Martin voiced hope that “Mr. Harwood will recognize that it is time for him to drop his appeal. If not, he will just cause unnecessary delay and will force the town to incur additional legal expenses. Either way, the board’s decision is now based a very complete record and has the benefit of numerous findings adopted by the board.”
According to Martin, “there is virtually no chance that any court would reverse the decision, and continuing the appeal would show a lack of good faith on the part of Mr. Harwood.”
Harwood’s appeal centered on opposition to the ZBA’s 4-1 waiver last winter of a town bylaw calling for a contribution to the Affordable Housing Trust or inclusion of several lower-cost units within the development. But the Superior Court order sending the board’s original approval back for a second look took the issue off the table. Instead, Wilkins sought more details on technical issues involving setbacks, parking, density and buffers.
Via e-mail, Harwood stated that “it was very disappointing to watch the ZBA rewrite our community’s zoning ordinance on the fly, and for the benefit of this one project, while repeatedly citing the applicant’s upstanding role in the community. When rules apply to everyone except the elite few, it is called cronyism, and it was very difficult to watch that unfold in real time in front of our eyes.”
“My attorney and I will wait for the written decision to be issued and discuss what further options are available and appropriate,” he added.
Ahead of the 5-0 vote reaffirming approval of the Windrose project, ZBA Chairman Robert Fuster Jr., asserted that the project would be an economic boon for downtown, providing an infusion of new residents to patronize local businesses.
He also cited the restoration of the “very significant, historical” Northrup House, where Nathan Winstanley operated his marketing business until he retired in 2018 and put the property up for sale. Fuster pointed out when completed, the development is projected to add $200,000 to $250,000 annually to the town’s tax rolls. He also declared that the complex would have no negative impacts, citing a traffic study and support from the police and fire chief.
“Reaffirming the original approval is necessary and a very good idea,” ZBA member Albert Harper agreed.
Leary Considine declared that “downtown is dense already, and to paraphrase [civil engineer and project designer] Jim Scalise, ‘density is good.’ There are places meant for density, and downtown is one of those places.”
But she also voiced regret over the board’s decision last winter to grant a waiver, exempting the project from the town’s affordable housing bylaw. Leary Considine had been the only member to vote against the waiver.
“It’s a very important issue to people,” she stated. “The board should have addressed this in a different way.” She also questioned why a contribution to the town’s affordable housing trust fund would be a hardship. “What’s another $100,000 to the Affordable Housing Trust?” she asked. “If any petitioner can afford to do this, it’s this one” since the special permit will be transferred to an outside developer.
“This board may have the opportunity on a modification of the special permit to revisit this issue of affordable housing,” Leary Considine said, “and I hope we do.” She also held out hope for a voluntary contribution to the affordable housing fund.
“I think this is a great project,” said ZBA member Clayton Hambrick. “it’s what the downtown needs now, especially coming off this miserable period we’re in.”
Member Ned Douglas, while backing the project, backed Leary Considine’s advocacy of affordable housing.
As part of the new special permit, the board went on to waive any and all alleged “deficiencies” involving the project’s compliance with technical aspects of town bylaws, such as buffers, setbacks, parking, dimensional and density requirements.
Earlier, under questioning from Harper, Nathan Winstanley estimated the cost to an outside developer of building the project at $15 million to $17 million, with a total value of at least $20 million once all the condo units are sold.
Asked what he would do with the 10,000-square-foot Northrup House if Berkshire Superior Court overturns the revised special permit, Winstanley replied: “Sell it to whoever will buy it.” His previous effort to sell it, starting four years ago, yielded no buyer.
“I believe it’s one of the signature historic buildings in town,” he stated, and I felt it was really important that it be saved, and be part of the solution for the property in perpetuity.”