LENOX — Selectman Edward Lane sharply has criticized the leader of a lawsuit against the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, filed in February, aimed at stopping the proposed Windrose Place development in its tracks.
“The zoning board is one of the most thankless jobs in town,” Lane declared during a recent Select Board meeting. “We’re fortunate to have very fine, good, intelligent, smart people on it. They analyze things, they look at it in all different directions, and I don’t envy them. They do a fantastic job.”
Yet, the ZBA has been embroiled in a lawsuit stemming from its 5-0 vote in January to grant a special permit for the multiuse Windrose Place development.
Nathan Winstanley’s proposed $15 million project includes renovation of the 1790 Northrup House at 114 Main St., where he operated his marketing business for nearly 30 years, and construction of three new buildings with 26 luxury apartments. One building would include street-level businesses or offices.
The proposal has been bogged down by an appeal filed by local architect James Harwood. Lacking legal standing himself because he is not an immediate neighbor, he was joined for six months by two abutters to the proposed project. But, after access and landscaping concessions were made for adjacent property owner Charles Merritt, he and neighbor Maura Griffin withdrew from the lawsuit.
Without mentioning Harwood by name, Lane asserted that “it’s shameful that people, elected town officials, are trying to throw a monkey wrench into this thing.”
Harwood is an elected member of the Planning Board, although he has stated that he filed the lawsuit on his own.
Asked for comment on Lane’s remarks, Harwood told The Eagle: “There’s nothing shameful about asking that Lenox’s zoning bylaw apply to everyone, even the well-connected in our community. The project as presented does not comply with our zoning requirements.”
“If we would like to revise our zoning to accommodate this project, it should be done at town meeting by a two-thirds majority, and it should not be done by five people in a room,” he added. “It’s unfortunate that a lawsuit is the only means available to stop this mistake from happening.”
Berkshire Superior Court Associate Justice Douglas Wilkins has sent the lawsuit back to the zoning board for further review of buffers, parking and density issues. But, he took off the table the main objection Harwood had cited — the ZBA’s approval of a waiver exempting Winstanley from the town bylaw requiring the inclusion of several affordable apartment units.
Last January, ahead of the board’s original public hearing on the project, the Planning Board submitted a letter to the ZBA contending that the affordable housing provision must apply to the Windrose special-permit application.
After a contentious public hearing on the issue Oct. 14, the ZBA ordered attorneys for Winstanley, the town and Harwood to submit arguments in writing before resuming the hearing at 7 p.m. Nov. 18.
At last month’s meeting, Land Use Director and Town Planner Gwen Miller said that, based on her consultation with Town Counsel Joel Bard, Harwood does not have legal standing to pursue his original appeal. ZBA Chairman Robert Fuster Jr., an attorney, agreeed. Any new issues would require a new appeal, Miller said.
Lane signaled clear support for the project, calling it “probably the biggest thing that’s ever happened to downtown Lenox in my lifetime. They’ve worked hard at this, they put a lot of money and a lot of thought into it, and it’s going to do nothing but help that end of town.”
Acknowledging that, as a selectman, he has tried to stay out of zoning disputes, Lane voiced concern over “the knocks” the zoning board has been getting in some letters to the editor in The Eagle.
He cited Nate and Kathryn Winstanley as “outstanding people; they’ve done lots of things for the town, for the schools and they’ve been great employers. When it comes to zoning, that doesn’t mean anything; I get that.”
“Everybody has their own opinion, they can do what they want to do, it’s a democracy,” Lane said. “But, I think the zoning board has done a great job coming up with a decision on this. Some people didn’t agree, but it’s time to move on.”
He voiced hope that the project goes through, “and I hope the ZBA does what they’re going to do in their wisdom, and I’m sure they will. They’ve always done the right things.”