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Williamsville Inn neighbors have concerns about a plan to reimagine the facility. The restaurateur behind the project is listening

The Williamsville Inn

Matthew Straus, who founded Heirloom Cafe in San Francisco, filed Dec. 7 for special permits for the Heirloom Lodge, a “modest American agriturismo,” at The Williamsville Inn in West Stockbridge. 

WEST STOCKBRIDGE — The restaurateur proposing to create a “comfortable, modern dining and lodging experience” called Heirloom Lodge is encountering pushback from neighbors.

On Thursday night, at what was intended to be the proposal’s first airing before town officials, the attorney representing the new owner of the former Williamsville Inn instead asked for a postponement of the proceedings.

“I think some of the board members are aware that there are some neighbors that have retained counsel,” said Jeff Lynch, the attorney representing Heirloom Lodge, to members of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Lynch said his client, Matthew Straus, a chef, sommelier and founder of Heirloom Cafe in San Francisco, Calif., plans to meet with neighbors before the end of the month.

“The applicant is establishing a meeting with the neighbors to try to better inform them about the application and also address and hear from them concerning their thoughts on the project,” Lynch said. “And so, we’re hoping that this short delay will actually result in a more streamlined, caring and thoughtful process in the coming weeks.”

Lynch told the board that input from the neighbors could result in alterations of the proposal.

Heirloom Lodge is tentatively rescheduled to come before the board again Feb. 10.

Matthew Straus, Heirloom Lodge

Matthew Straus hopes to open a European-style agricultural lodging experience at the former Williamsville Inn.

Board Chairman Randolph Thunfors told fellow board members the town received four letters from neighbors who had reviewed the plans.

“I would just characterize all four letters as being not in favor of the application as it was presented,” Thunfors said.

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Straus purchased the nearly 10-acre property in June for $812,808; it was listed for $1,199,000. Located at 286 Great Barrington Road (Route 41), in the Williamsville section of West Stockbridge, the property includes a main house, a barn, gardens, a pool and tennis court.

The plans, as of now, include building 16 cottages, about 350 square feet each; renovating the main house for use as a 90-seat restaurant and administrative offices; rebuilding the barn for use as an entertainment space; replacing the pool with a heated two-lane lap pool; and installing extensive gardens and greenhouses to supply food for a 90-seat restaurant.

The Williamsville Inn, which opened in 1952 and closed sometime around 2014, had operated as a restaurant and 16-room facility. Three of those guest rooms were located within the barn. The other 13 rooms and the restaurant were within the main house. In its application, Heirloom Lodge notes that the facility would keep its lodging to 16 guest rooms, all within the proposed 16 cottages.

The former inn had fewer than 20 parking spaces, according to the plans. The proposal calls for increasing parking to 60 spaces.

Comparing its plans to the former inn, Heirloom Lodge said in its application that “the impact on the neighborhood would be unchanged.”

Heirloom Lodge says its plans would create more than 30 new jobs and provide internships for students interested in farming, culinary arts and business management.

The applicant is requesting three special permits from the Zoning Board of Appeals in order to reestablish the restaurant and for alterations and construction. The current proposal would also require approvals from the town’s Conservation Commission and the Board of Health.

Having looked at Heirloom’s application, town officials advised Lynch on Thursday that they would likely need more information regarding outdoor lighting and drainage.

Board members made it clear to Lynch they were impressed with the application, which included details of Straus’ vision to transform the site into a “modest American agriturismo,” a term used to describe working farms that receive guests for meals and/or overnight stays.

“I have to say that in the way-too-many decades that I’ve been involved in the ZBA, I have rarely seen a more comprehensive application from anyone,” said Thunfors. “Yes, we have some things that we’re going to obviously be questioning. But it was really very nicely done.”

Felix Carroll can be reached at fcarroll@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6391.

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