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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: Greylock Glen project should proceed with caution, openness and good faith

We’ve said it before, and it bears repeating: The Greylock Glen project is a years-long dream in the making that poses economic development and landscape preservation opportunities for a region where both are critical. When something like this gets rolling in the heart of the Berkshires, we’ve got our eyes on it. So when a few dozen members of the surrounding community collectively voice their concerns with the project’s footprint, that also grabs our attention.

Recently, the Greylock Glen project took another official step forward when the Adams Select Board approved a proposal for a 23-acre campground pitched by Lenox-based developer Shared Estates. Alongside the ongoing construction of an outdoor recreation center, the campground proposal seemingly fits the Glen project’s overall theme of “green tourism” — minimal buildout meant to draw travelers to this emerald gem of the great outdoors without tarnishing the natural beauty that makes it worth preserving.

Letter: We want community to have closer look at Greylock Glen project details

After the Select Board OK’d the campground proposal, we received a letter to the editor signed by 36 community stakeholders who took issue with some aspects of the proposal and what they felt was a too-hasty sign-off by the Select Board. In addition to tented campsites and cabins, the campground plan also includes so-called “mirror houses” (two-bed structures with exteriors made of reflective material) as well as Airstream trailers. The letter’s signatories say this violates an original intention to keep any development in the Glen relatively “rustic.” They bolster their concerns by citing the developer’s history of buying large estates and transforming them into “high-end Airbnbs.”

In addition to more than 30 individuals, the letter was signed by representatives from regional environmental groups like Berkshire Environmental Action Team as well as a few civic organizations and business-owners.

Anyone familiar with Becket’s protracted spat over a “glamping” proposal last year knows it’s quite easy to get bogged down in defining terms like “camping” and “rustic” and debates over whether pitches for stylish modern camping arrangements are really attempts to sneak in more development than a community has bargained for.

We sincerely hope the harshness of the debate that seized Becket for months does not fall on the Greylock Glen project and the Adams community. Still, the concerns voiced by this letter and those who share its cautious sentiments highlight an inevitable question that would prove sticky for any ambitious attempt to balance development and preservation: How much development, precisely, is antithetical to preservation mission?

We won’t pretend to have the exact answer to that question even as it looms large for a project we hope will succeed. One way or another, though, the Greylock Glen project will have to grapple with it. Attracting a healthy stream of 21st-century campers probably will require some amenities that some find insufficiently “rustic” for the goal of preserving a natural environment. Some will consider the mirror houses too strange-looking to be called a campsite, though it’s an exercise in trade-offs: The totally reflective exteriors look rather sci-fi up close, but their appearance is intended to make them disappear into the landscape when viewed from afar, thus ostensibly preserving more scenic views. Even then, some argue the reflective surfaces pose a danger to wildlife, though the developers say the material is specifically designed to be detectable by animals like birds.

What we do know is that when it comes to the question of how much development is too much, the answer is never going to be a unanimous one. It’s nigh impossible to build out anything in a large green space without rubbing some environmentalists and abutters the wrong way. And we should give some benefit of the doubt to Adams leaders who have brought this vital project to where it is now and proven their thoughtful dedication to the Glen, such as Town Administrator Jay Green who told an Eagle reporter “We think we’ve found a good partner for this project.”

But those urging caution in their letter have a point: “This is a state resource and should be a concern to everyone in the commonwealth.” More than a state resource, the Greylock Glen is a treasured emerald in the Berkshire landscape’s crown and a fertile ground for regional economic growth that is sustainable and preservation-minded.

With that in mind, we agree with the letter’s ultimate call to action to allow more public comment and review of this key piece of the Greylock Glen development plan. We’re not saying town leaders should give anyone a heckler’s veto, but it would be best to ensure anyone in the community who wants to weigh in has a real chance to. We want this project to succeed.

That requires moving forward in such a way that does not leave hard feelings for those who might have concerns with the pace or character of the development but feel unheard. It will also require all stakeholders to come together in a spirit of good faith and compromise to maintain the promise and momentum of this endeavor.

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