With special permit from Lee ZBA, Eagle Mill project soars over another hurdle

A developer has resubmitted plans to redevelop the former Eagle Mill in Lee, removing much of the commercial component of the project and expanding the number of residential units.

LEE — A revised proposal to redevelop the former Eagle Mill will not include a multistory hotel or marketplace, but will include additional condominiums.

Citing a volatile economic climate amid the coronavirus pandemic, the project’s principal developer has scrapped plans for a Faneuil Hall-style shopping complex in the main Eagle Mill building, as well as the 100- to 120-room hotel.

“The likelihood of developing a hotel is somewhere between zero and none,” according to Jeffrey Cohen, of Great Barrington, in an interview with The Eagle.

Cohen and his development team have submitted a revised proposal to the Lee Planning Board for a maximum of 122 affordable and market-rate apartments, up from 80 units, at the site of the mill, which closed in 2008. If the board approves, the revision of the estimated $60 million to $70 million project would include additional riverfront condominiums along the Housatonic River.

The revision eliminates the marketplace component of the plan, instead converting the historic Eagle Mill building into all housing. The Union Mill adjacent to the Eagle Mill also remains all housing, with the redevelopment still showing a new apartment building planned for the east side of the property.

Cohen said the West Center Street parcels that had been targeted for the hotel would remain parking, possibly a municipal lot, with commercial development likely on any remaining parcels. The removal of the hotel is not part of the site plan review, as it is separate from the mill. The town planners will fully review the revamped site plan at their Nov. 23 meeting.

Cohen said he will create some retail and office space on the 6-plus-acre mill site at the north end of Main Street. But, social distancing and other COVID-19 restrictions have scared off potential tenants for the 30,000-square-foot marketplace.

“We could revisit retail after Phase 1, but we need to get going; we need to get construction underway,” Cohen told the board at its Monday meeting.

Phase 1 includes the Eagle and Union mills and the renovation of the 160-year old machine shop that will be leased to The Marketplace, which has cafes in Sheffield and Great Barrington and operates a catering business.

Phase 2 calls for leveling the 1960s-style section of the factory on the east side of the property and erecting the new apartment building.

The final aspect of the project is a new, mixed-use building next to the machine shop with commercial space on the first floor and approximately 24 apartments on the upper floor.

“[The mixed use building] could be a great place for Ingegni Salon or Baja Charlie’s,” Cohen said, referring to the two businesses where the hotel was sited across from the mill. The salon and restaurant still would be displaced by the project.

The change in plans got a cool reception from two Planning Board members.

“What we have here is a project that was supposed to be a tourist destination that’s now another housing project, and I’m not sure it benefits the town,” David Forrest said.

Chairman Matt Carlino shared the same concern about reducing the project’s commercial component.

After nearly eight years of planning, board member Peg Biron is eager for the rejuvenation to begin for a property dormant for more than a decade.

“I want to see the Eagle Mill developed,” she said. “Every time I go by, it is deteriorating.”

The developers’ housing partner, Rees-Larkin Development of Boston, would create the housing, with the Berkshire Housing Development Corp. managing the 122 apartments. Berkshire Housing also manages the Rice Silk Mill apartments in Pittsfield, another Rees-Larkin mill-to-housing conversion completed eight years ago.

Cohen and his development team say they need Planning Board approval by Jan 1 if they are to break ground in the second half of 2021. The developer has several financial deadlines to meet going into next year to secure all the necessary funding for the project.

Cohen says the Eagle Mill redevelopment already has landed $6.8 million in historic tax credits from the National Park Service and $1.5 million from the Massachusetts Historic Commission, with more awards possible. The park service and state commission have final say on how the historic buildings are renovated and the look of the new construction.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com