Lenox appears poised to OK $90 million Blantyre expansion
LENOX — A proposed $90 million expansion of the historic Blantyre resort appeared heading for approval Monday night when the proceeding had to be suspended — by darkness.
Charged with holding a public hearing designed to maximize public participation, the Zoning Board of Appeals held the meeting in Lilac Park.
About 50 people, practicing social distancing, participated in the unusual session until nightfall forced an abrupt ending after nearly two hours of spirited discussion.
The ZBA is expected to vote on whether to approve the project at a follow-up meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, this time during a remote session via Zoom.
From all indications, the board appeared open to a favorable verdict after members lobbed pointed questions at owner Linda Law and her team. The ZBA also heard primarily positive public reaction to the build-out of the boutique hideaway, a haunt favored by many prominent Tanglewood musicians and other celebrities over the years.
Law said she will seek new financing to build out the 109-acre, 118-year-old hotel if the project gains its permits. The original investors bowed out after the coronavirus epidemic postponed the ZBA hearing after Blantyre’s preliminary presentation in early March.
“We are very much in need of getting approvals, because property values have gone down and banks will not even lend to us with this,” Law said.
The project includes:
• A new building adding 45 rooms to the existing 24 suites in the manor house and nearby cottages;
• Gainsborough Hall, a new building adjacent to the mansion housing a 4,100-square-foot gallery/ballroom with a dining room for large gatherings such as weddings;
• Construction of 20 individual, single-family units in four residential townhouses called The Mews at Blantyre, which owners who are away could turn back to the hotel management for rentals to guests;
• Development of 14 1-acre building lots for estates centered around two New England-style village greens.
Blantyre’s attorney, F. Sydney Smithers IV of Cain Hibbard & Myers in Pittsfield, is seeking a special permit for Blantyre Hotel Ventures LLC under the town’s Great Estates Preservation Bylaw.
The goal is to create “a world-class destination retreat resort … a global center of excellence for retreats, think tanks and conferences, including Fortune 500 companies, foundations, institutes, endowments, philanthropic endeavors and universities,” the application states.
Law and Smithers acknowledged that, under an approved special permit, Blantyre would want to continue to offer occasional outdoor events for more than 175 guests, including outside amplified music and fireworks, ending no later than 11 p.m., and a restaurant open to nonguests.
During public comment, local resident Mindi Morin, who is managing director for Canyon Ranch, urged approval of the project “to bring people to the Berkshires, to be able to have more people live here and to be able to have affordable housing.”
After building permits are granted for the construction of the new residential housing units and estate lots, Blantyre plans to contribute to the Lenox Affordable Housing Trust a cash payment of $270,000 to meet a town bylaw provision affecting new housing developments.
“As we have all these beautiful great estates, what better way to enhance our gorgeous town and shine more of a light on what the Berkshires has than by allowing Blantyre to move forward with this,” Morin said.
Scott Shortt, owner of the Kemble Inn, asked the ZBA to unanimously approve the Blantyre application, which he called comprehensive and thorough.
But, he questioned dialogue at the meeting that suggested “public ownership of these great estates. That’s simply not the case. They contribute to the character of the town, they’re important to the town, but if the town would like to buy those assets from the people who own them and turn them into parks and museums, they should do that.”
Shortt, who has put his inn on the market for $4.6 million, asserted that it’s difficult for owners of such estates with limited guest rooms in a short season to make them economically viable.
“I’d strongly encourage you to not take those people for granted,” he told the ZBA members.
Representing Coldbrooke South condominium owners, Linda Messana of Elite Property Management proposed putting pressure on the state to add a spring, summer and fall traffic light to handle anticipated heavier traffic at the accident-prone Blantyre Road intersection with Lee Road (Route 20).
ZBA member Albert Harper challenged architect Ann McCallum’s computation of a 49 1/2-foot average height for the new lodging building, just under the 50-foot allowable maximum.
But, he ended up complimenting the application’s analysis for a special permit. He also described as “masterful” the traffic study prepared by consultants Fuss & O’Neill of Springfield, which recommended improvement of sightlines on Blantyre Road. And Harper found the site plan for parking, lighting and drainage “extremely well-presented” by Foresight Land Services of Pittsfield.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
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