Lenox residents prepare to fight Elm Court resort


LENOX -- Residents of Old Stockbridge Road are ramping up efforts to block the proposed 112-room Elm Court resort ahead of a ruling by the Stockbridge Select Board.

Most of the historic property is in Stockbridge, but the entrance and the frontage along the hilly, winding road are within Lenox.

Several Elm Court neighbors residing in Stockbridge and Lenox plan to appear before the Lenox Selectmen during Wednesday’s 7 p.m. meeting at Town Hall to voice their concerns over the potential traffic impact and disruption to their tranquil environment.

"My concern is the traffic," said Lenox resident Carol Corby, who has lived for 32 years just north of Elm Court. "I’ve walked my dog on this road and raised four children who walked to town. It’s dangerous already; I can’t imagine what it will be like with a mammoth, 112-room goliath of a hotel on a country road. It’s going to change the character of the street."

Meanwhile, the Stockbridge Select Board -- which has the authority to grant a special permit for the project that would create a Travaasa Experiential Resort operating under the Denver-based Amstar subsidiary Front Yard LLC -- is slated to resume its discussion at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 4.

During that meeting, the three-member Stockbridge board could vote to grant or deny the special permit. The town’s Historic District Commission and Conservation Commission had previously approved the resort plan.

The Select Board requested additional traffic-impact studies in time for its Aug. 4 meeting.

The concerned neighbors recently formed the Old Stockbridge Road Neighborhood Association and have hired a new attorney to press their case.

According to association sources, Front Yard LLC would also require a special permit from the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals for a resort use in a residential zone.

"I’ve encouraged the citizens group to get the Lenox people to come to the meeting on July 23," said Select Board Chairman Channing Gibson. "It’s important that we talk about it at a public meeting."

Gibson emphasized that the town of Lenox has to play a role, given the hotel project’s potential impact on the neighborhood and on traffic.

The resort would require connection to a Lenox sewer line. According to Gibson, no commitments have been made and there’s no agreement yet on that point.

"Quality of life concerns have to be taken into consideration," he commented. "It’s not negligible to have a 112-room hotel in your neighborhood. We’re a tiny bit behind the curve on this and I want to catch up."

"We’ve got to do our work," Gibson declared, "and I hope the citizens will put their complaints forward."

In addition to the sewer issue, he said a traffic impact study on key Lenox intersections -- notably, the busy Old Stockbridge Road, Walker Street and Main Street convergence in the center of town -- is necessary.

"We’re always mindful of advocating on behalf of our residents," said Town Manager Christopher Ketchen, "even when there’s a development that’s technically in another community. We always look for ways to represent their interests first. Time will tell how that unfolds, but we’re gathering as much information as we can. Ultimately, we’re looking at what’s best for Lenox."

As far as Ketchen is concerned, "everything is on the table as far as what, if any, relationship the town has with the Elm Court project."

But, he added, the town is "mindful of the fact it is in Stockbridge, so we have limited ability to inject ourselves into their board’s process." Ketchen pointed out that if the Stockbridge Select Board declines to approve the special permit, it becomes a moot point for Lenox.

Amstar, parent company of Elm Court’s owner Front Yard, LLC, is an international real-estate investment corporation with $2.5 billion in assets, according to its website.

In addition to Travaasa resorts currently operated by Amstar on Maui in Hawaii and in Austin, Texas, it has hotels in Pasadena, Calif., Westminster, Colo., Coral Gables, Fla., Chicago, and Newport, R.I., as well as in Costa Rica, Mexico and India.

It has sold hotel properties in San Diego and Hollywood, Washington, D.C., Naples and Palm Beach, Fla., Atlanta, Princeton, N.J., New York City, Oklahoma City, Brentwood, Tenn., and Alexandria, Va., according to a listing on its website.

At the June 23 Stockbridge Select Board meeting, Front Yard and Amstar executives presented revised plans for a 112-room resort at Elm Court -- 96 in a new wing and 16 in the mansion -- as well as a spa and a 60-seat public restaurant. Its previous plan called for a total of 96 rooms.

Speaking on behalf of the project were Gabe Finke, Amstar’s CEO, Christopher Manning, former senior vice-president of Amstar and now a private investor in the project, and Great Barrington attorney David Hellman, representing Front Yard LLC.

They argued that the expanded resort plan backed by a "deep-pocketed" owner is the only way to preserve the historic mansion, which is on a scenic bluff overlooking Stockbridge Bowl and hills to the south. A traffic-impact study by Fuss & O’Neill, a West Springfield environmental engineering firm, stated that "regular users of the roadway are unlikely to notice a change in traffic operations as a result of the proposed addition."

But neighborhood residents, who turned out in force to voice objections on behalf of 79 neighbors who signed a petition opposing the project, pointed out that some key intersections had not been included in the study, including the entrance to Bishop Estate and the busy downtown Lenox four-way intersection at the war memorial.

Old Stockbridge Road, in the vicinity of Elm Court, bisects the Lenox and Stockbridge town lines.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto

What’s next ...

The following public meetings are slated on the proposed Elm Court Resort project:

n 7 p.m. Wednesday: Neighborhood residents on Old Stockbridge Road are expected to voice their concerns to the Lenox Selectmen and Town Manager at Town Hall during a regular Select Board meeting.

n 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 4: The Stockbridge Select Board is scheduled to resume its discussion on the resort developer’s application for a special permit, with a potential up-or-down vote to determine the fate of the proposal.


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