Stockbridge Planning Board sets hearing for showdown on DeSisto Estate redevelopment plan

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STOCKBRIDGE — With a public hearing just weeks away on a $150 million resort and single-family home complex, the town Planning Board is preparing the rules of engagement.

Meanwhile, the development team is ramping up efforts to gain widespread public support for the project on the former DeSisto Estate, known as 37 Interlaken.

Planning Board Chairman Gary Pitney, who will moderate the Feb. 6 hearing, is suggesting a two- to three-minute limit on residents as they weigh in on the pros and cons of the project.

Speakers will be directed to the podium and will be asked to identify themselves, including their address and affiliation, Pitney said. A signup sheet will be provided for people attending the hearing.

"We try to be as easygoing as we possibly can in these situations," Pitney said of the suggested guidelines. Speakers will be allowed to follow up with additional comments, but will be urged not to repeat themselves.

"We should allow the meeting to breathe a bit, and not be too focused on the number of minutes," added Kate Fletcher, vice chairwoman of the Planning Board.

The board is reviewing the developers' outline for a revised Cottage Era Estate zoning bylaw that would allow the 40- to 50-room hotel, 139 condo units and 34 single-family home project on the 320-acre site off Route 183, two miles south of Tanglewood. The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Offices, either in the Select Board meeting room or the gym.

"It's important to talk about the Cottage Era Estates bylaw as it exists now," said resident Stuart Hirshfield, a project opponent who lives near the estate. "To be able to enlighten people as to what this is all about, it seems to me important that someone make a presentation on what the bylaws are now, and then obviously there'll be a presentation about what the amendments are."

Details about the developers' zoning bylaw amendment will be posted on the town's revamped website and also will be available at the Town Offices and at the hearing.

At a recent Planning Board meeting, members put off a decision on whether to conduct site visits to current and potential Cottage Era estates. The possibility will be discussed at the board's zoning review subcommittee at 5:30 p.m. Jan 15 in the Town Offices.

Under the present zoning bylaw, the proposed resort and housing complex, with its public restaurant and other facilities, would not be permitted without a special permit. The only other estates currently covered by the rules are Elm Court, where an approved resort is in development, and the Congregation of Marian Fathers on Eden Hill.

While the Planning Board could support or oppose the 37 Interlaken rezoning proposal, it will be up to annual town meeting voters on May 21 to deliver an up or down final verdict. A two-thirds majority is required to approve a zoning change.

The resort bylaw amendment sought by the developers would give them "by right" automatic permission to build the resort complex, subject to a site plan review by the Planning Board.

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The developer's attorney, Jonathan M. Silverstein of KP Law in Boston, chose to pursue the project through the Planning Board and the town meeting rather than seek a special permit from the Select Board.

The 37 Interlaken team has scheduled another round of informational sessions for the public this weekend on its proposed bylaw amendment and for a project update. The open houses are slated for 5 to 7 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. Three 45 minute sessions will be on each of the days.

"We welcome the opportunity to review our proposed bylaw amendment and the reasons for the proposed changes," according to a statement released by Sean Ferry, the property's operations manager.

"We look forward to moving forward with our project, while maintaining full transparency between the town, its residents and us," the statement read. "We encourage you to come visit with us to continue to learn more about this unique opportunity for Stockbridge and the Berkshire region."

The developers, led by property owner Patrick Sheehan, managing partner Tony Guthrie and project manager Rob Akroyd, have emphasized that the project could bring more than $2 million in annual tax revenues "to a town with a significantly limited real estate tax base."

"It also is an opportunity for Stockbridge to participate in a more meaningful manner in the growth of tourism in the Berkshires," the statement issued by Ferry added. Those interested in attending have been asked to RSVP by 5 p.m. Thursday to 37interlaken@gmail.com or by calling, texting or e-mailing Guthrie at 508-246-3236 or tguthrie@robertpaul.com.

At the Jan. 3 Finance Committee meeting, Chairman Jay Bikofsky suggested an independent outside evaluation of the proposed resort.

"This is a mammoth project," he said. "I'm not sure we have the expertise to really pass judgment on the details of the project, the zoning and the construction implications."

Committee member Stephen Shatz pointed out that "we can get some sense as to what we can expect from a project like this," citing the town's experience analyzing the Elm Court resort plan. "We're not without resources to pass judgment or at least make some recommendation, because that's what our role is. We're advisory only."

Shatz and Bikofsky agreed that the developers' projections of financial benefits to the town based on a full buildout of the project are "meaningless right now."

Resident Denny Alsop urged the Finance Committee to "take a careful look at whether it's demoting its ability to stand up for the town."

Bikofsky suggested that the committee await the verdict of the Planning Board and the discussion at the scheduled public hearing before weighing in with advice.

"I'm worried about my property, too, as is everybody," he said.

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


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