Our Opinion: Blantyre expansion with due time, process
The Gilded Age "cottage" Blantyre in Lenox is an important component of the Berkshires' past, present and, we hope, future, and concerns about its financial health are shared beyond ownership. The plans for solidifying its future economically are promising ones, but the governmental process going forward has to play out as it would for any town project.
Blantyre co-owner Linda Law has asked the Lenox Board of Appeals to put a $90 million expansion of the property on a fast track. ("'This is about Blantyre or no Blantyre'"," Eagle," March 8.) She said increased competition in the vanity boutique hotel business had made it difficult for Blantyre to break even and the challenge in getting financing for the ambitious project required ownership and the town to act quickly. The appeals board made it clear, however, that it would not be hurried. Things can move slowly in Lenox, but town officials do have a responsibility to carry out due diligence.
And the project is an ambitious one. It calls for a building of 45 rooms and a spa added to the current 24 suites in the 118-year-old mansion and nearby cottages, construction of 20 units in four residential townhouses, and the addition of 14 1-acre building lots for estates built around two village gardens. Ms. Law wants to "turn Blantyre into a global center for life-long learning," which would be in keeping with the goals of other Berkshire institutions like Canyon Ranch and Tanglewood through its new Linde Center.
Ms. Law cited the burgeoning Airbnb industry as a part of the threat to Blantyre, although it is likely that most Airbnb customers are looking for something in the lower cost range than Blantyre. We don't doubt, however, that employing a staff capable of meeting the understandably high demands of Blantyre guests is costly. If Blantyre is to survive, and Ms. Law was clear that she believes its survival is at stake, ownership would be remiss if was not actively seeking to expand in ways that will keep it economically viable.
Rather than provide immediate approval on March 8, the Zoning Board of Appeals decided to tour the property off Lee Road (Route 20) in the afternoon of March 25 and reconvene that evening.for a special meeting on the application. That is not an unreasonable time frame, although if questions arise, approval of the expansion may not come that evening. Ideally, Blantyre's $90 million expansion become a reality and the historic mansion and its new buildings will thrive long into the future. But an expansion of this size and ambition can't be rushed. If it is, all parties could come to regret it.
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