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Dream Away Campground

Meaning of ‘camping’ resurfaces as a flashpoint in Berkshires zoning

Dream Away lodge render 2

An architect's rendering of proposed camp dwellings that would be part of a luxury camping development adjoining the grounds of the Dream Away Lodge on County Road in Becket. 

BECKET — They hauled out dictionaries last year in Hinsdale, en route to the defeat of a proposed RV campground. Now, it’s Becket’s turn.

A rose is a rose, but is a proposed 100-site luxury campground in Becket, an even mix of cabins and tent platforms, all with bathrooms, truly camping?

A lawyer hired by Becket residents told planners Wednesday the town’s zoning bylaw forbids the kind of permanent structures described in the “glamping” development that seeks a special permit as part of a revived Dream Away Lodge venture.

In an earlier letter this week to the Planning Board, attorney Elisabeth C. Goodman, of Cain Hibbard & Myers in Pittsfield, argued that while the applicant describes the project as a camp site, it proposes to erect permanent structures that appear to her to be dwellings. “The proposed dwelling sites violate the zoning bylaw,” she wrote.

At Wednesday’s public hearing, Goodman went further. “Your board has to decide if these facilities qualify as buildings, first of all, because the definition of building in your zoning bylaw is a structure with exterior walls and a roof,” she said. “So, to me, a cabin is a building — and if it’s a building, it’s not a tent, and it’s not camping.”

Goodman’s comments came near the end of a roughly two-hour public hearing, which will be continued May 11. During most of the Planning Board’s first session, representatives of the applicant, Hit the Road RV LLC, described elements of their proposal and fielded questions from board members.

More than 100 people attended the hearing by Zoom, with only board members and town staff allowed in the meeting room.

Dream Away Lodge view (copy)

The current Dream Away Lodge property, at 1342 County Road in Becket, would be renovated as part of a project to create a "glamping" destination on the adjoining tract with 100 camping sites. The Becket Planning Board opened a public hearing on the project Wednesday and will take it up again May 11.

Tension was evident at the outset of what’s expected to be a drawn-out consideration of the proposal. People participating by videoconference could be heard muttering and commenting, perhaps unaware they were not muted.

As Goodman spoke, the board’s vice chair, James P. Levy, erupted and gestured at one point in response to one of the attorney’s comments about that nature of camping.

“Bull----,” Levy called out.

The board’s chair, Robert T. Ronzio, joined another member in quieting Levy.

“We just have to listen,” he told Levy. “She’s representing some clients and, you know, I’m sure that she’s not going to be the first person that’s gonna be bringing up issues that you may not agree with.”

Goodman pressed the board to ask Hit the Road RV to file an application accurately representing its current project. That came after Goodman heard, in the first hour of comments, that the project had dropped the idea of including a cluster of Airstream and Shasta RV trailers and had removed plans to provide small kitchens in all the units.

“It’s clear to me that this application is a moving target,” Goodman said. She represents Michael Zweig and Michelle Gersen.

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“The overarching issue, which no one has addressed, in my opinion: Is this camping?” Goodman asked. “That is the crux of our comment before your board. Because if this is not camping, then the application must be denied.”

Goodman urged the board to hire an independent expert on traffic issues and other questions, including the definition of camping.

Several of the project’s representatives offered briefings on aspects of the application, including civil engineering issues, water use and the likely impact of traffic to and from the campground and a remodeled Dream Away Lodge restaurant.

Two area residents spoke in favor of the project, including Nathan Hanford, who is formerly of Becket and praised what he termed a well-developed project.

Hanford said that being able to work, as a young man, at Jacob’s Pillow enabled him to go to college.

“My nieces and nephews live in Becket. I have five of them. They need jobs. We’re not an extremely wealthy family. They need to go to college,” he said.

“Go to an environmental glamping facility,” Hanford said through the videoconference. “Educate yourselves. These people have worked very hard and spent a lot of money to get where they are, even to propose this project. Give them a little respect.”

A local teen, Lucy, who identified herself as the daughter of Chris Swindlehurst, said she sees the campground as a prospective employer, and, like Hanford, said Becket residents need employment options.

Residents pointed out later that both the Swindlehursts and Hanford have relationships with Daniel Osman, the Dream Away Lodge owner.

“I’m 16 and I’m just about to get my license, and there’s no employment opportunities in Becket, at the moment, for people my age. As far as entry-level jobs, there really aren’t any,” Lucy said, then spoke to the project as a prospective employer.

“I’ve looked into their plans for how many people they plan to hire,” she said. “This is like an incredible opportunity. And I think you really just need to give them a chance to better our community.”

Several residents told the board they plan to explain their opposition to the project later, when the hearing continues.

Ted Kahn, a resident, said he felt that campground users would likely fill the reopened restaurant to capacity, making it hard to seat locals. “I can’t see any outside people coming into the Dream Away. So it’s not our restaurant anymore,” he said.

Michael Rhein said he likes the idea of having more tax revenue available to the town, but expressed concern about fire safety. Sarah Tie, representing Hit the Road RV, told the board that the property would have a limited number of fire pits. Rhein questioned how the campground would control a wish by visitors to roast marshmallows.

“How are you going to monitor and/or prevent somebody coming in, collecting some stones and some brush, and making a little campfire?” he asked.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Managing editor for innovation

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.

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