Lilac Park wil be site for hearing on proposed $90M Blantyre expansion

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LENOX — The long-awaited Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing for a proposed $90 million expansion of the historic Blantyre resort will take place Monday — in a public park, of all places.

The application falls under the town's Estate Preservation bylaw, which allows redevelopment, preservation and protection of a qualifying property exceeding 25 acres, including a building, open space and associated settings.

If approved by the ZBA, the number of guest suites in the 1902 mansion and nearby cottages would nearly triple, from 24 to 69, including 45 in a new building. A spa and separate three-level gallery and banquet hall would be added, along with construction of 20 units in four residential townhouses and the creation of 14 one-acre building lots for individual estate homes.

Because Town Hall remains closed, the ZBA meeting, which is expected to draw significant public interest, is scheduled for Lilac Park, off Main Street in the heart of downtown, at 7 p.m. A site visit at Blantyre for board members, which is open to the public, will be at 4 p.m. Monday.

The ZBA has held several remote Zoom hearings on lower-profile applications in recent weeks, but members were firm in their belief that a complex proposal such as Blantyre's should be held "live" in a public space so all interested residents could attend.

Linda Law, Blantyre's owner, filed the application in February, before the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of public life in Massachusetts. The ZBA heard a one-hour preliminary presentation March 4, but it continued the public hearing several times until the schedule was set in stone for Monday, with a rain date of Wednesday at the same time and place.

In her announcement, Land Use Director and Town Planner Gwen Miller noted that the hearing will be held outdoors in order to comply with state public health requirements.

"We ask that any and all planning to attend wear masks and practice social distancing [staying a minimum of 6 feet apart from each other] during the site visit and hearing," she said. "You will be asked to leave if your behavior is not in line with these standards. Your health and the health of the community continue to be our No. 1 priority. Please do not plan on attending the hearing or site visit if you are not feeling well."

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Anyone unable to attend the hearing can submit written correspondence to gmiller@townoflenox.com no later than 3 p.m. Monday.

Coinciding with the recent arrival of the pop-up, fine-dining Cafe Boulud at Blantyre, a limited number of individual night and weekend stays at the Relais & Ch teaux hotel resumed July 8, as part of the state's Phase 3 opening encompassing the hospitality industry.

Weekly stays and partial or full property buyout also are available, along with spa services for an additional fee.

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General Manager Stephen Benson told The Eagle that the Boston Symphony Orchestra's cancellation of its Tanglewood live performance schedule announced in mid-May extinguished the resort's last flicker of hope to salvage its normal, full summer season, as reservations plummeted at a tremendous pace.

"Tanglewood is the cornerstone of our summer," he said. "All of us have been enduring this horrific pandemic, which has been crippling to business. We lost at least 50 percent of our group and transient bookings compared to 2019."

The staff of 70 to 80 employees had been laid off, Benson noted.

The original financing for the expansion project was withdrawn at the end of March, the original deadline set by investors, Benson confirmed. The financing had included "some working capital to assist us in getting through the pandemic," he said.

Benson stressed that zoning board approval is "critical to our survival. Land use approvals will improve valuations of the property. There's nothing on the radar that concerns us about [new] financing."

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The redevelopment, if approved, would occur over 18 months in phases.

Law and her company, Blantyre Hotel Ventures LLC, remain "absolutely committed to the project," according to Benson. "We're very enthusiastic about it, and it would have a major economic impact on the community."

The redevelopment would double employment at the property, to 160, and could yield more than $930,000 for the town in various one-time fees and permits. Also, it would add about $1 million a year in sales and occupancy tax revenues, with real estate taxes to be determined, according to the application submitted to the zoning board by attorney F. Sydney Smithers IV of Cain Hibbard & Myers in Pittsfield.

"We're very optimistic and we're aggressively seeking investors who are very interested in Blantyre," Benson said. "We're eager to present it, collaborate with the town and see this thing through; the benefits will be tremendous for everyone."

Noting Blantyre's 120-year history in the community, Benson declared that "we have no plans to sell it, but to continue to be good stewards of the property and community."

"These Gilded Age manor houses are extraordinarily expensive to maintain as a result of the age of the structures, the age of the fixtures and equipment and the relatively small number of guest rooms, making financial viability and success especially difficult," the special permit application stated.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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