LENOX -- Lenox Town Meeting won't be asked to sell property it co-owns on Laurel Lake because of preliminary talks involving a town purchase of the 50-acre Edith Wharton Restoration at The Mount.
The Lenox Select Board has voted 3-2 to remove the article from the annual town warrant in May. It would have asked voters to authorize the sale of a portion of Laurel Lake waterfront property the town co-owns with Lee.
Lee has already voted to authorize the sale of an abandoned house on a 22-acre parcel of land at 135 Laurel Lake Crossroad.
The proposal would have carved out a two-acre plot that includes the house and put it up for sale, according to Town Manager Gregory Federspiel. The property has become too expensive to maintain.
The 22-acre site is known as the Edith Wharton Park. Co-owned by Lee and Lenox, it is part of the original property the famed author purchased when she designed her palatial residence here in 1902.
But the parcel is now envisioned as part of a 150-acre "central park" for public recreation, a proposal introduced by Susan Wissler, executive director of The Mount, at a recent Community Preservation Committee meeting.
Wissler is seeking a partnership between the nonprofit and the town that could save Edith Wharton Restoration's historic house museum, its gardens and walking trails from creditors. The nonprofit's debt of nearly $4 million, most of it to Berkshire Bank, comes due in June 2016.
Wissler said partnering with the town would secure The Mount property from its creditors, place it in the public's hands "for generations to come," and put "the original Mount estate back together for public access."
Originally, under Wharton's ownership from 1901 to 1911, the 150-acre property extended from the top of Plunkett Street to the shores of Laurel Lake. Currently, the little-known Edith Wharton Park is on the pristine meadow on the lakefront that includes the abandoned house, Wissler said.
Urging a one-year postponement of the warrant article, she noted that a new owner of the house could develop the property "out of character" with preservation goals.
Describing "an air of unsettled thinking" by the Select Board, Planning Board Chairwoman Kathleen McNulty Vaughan urged the members to set aside the property-sale proposal.
"We have no idea what's going to happen here at all, and no plan," she declared, warning of "falling dominoes" if the warrant article were presented at Town Meeting and approved by voters.
"We need to get settled," Selectman David Roche agreed as a bare majority of the board voted to withdraw the article from the warrant.