Waubeeka Golf Links plans to offer concessions in quest to build resort

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WILLIAMSTOWN — The owner of Waubeeka Golf Links is planning to offer a series of concessions to neighbors of the property in his quest to build a resort hotel on the site.

Mike Deep has sent a list of the concessions, which include a reduction in the size and location of the hotel, to The Berkshire Eagle and the Williamstown Select Board.

Opponents, however, said while the changes are a step in the right direction, they are still not good enough.

Deep has been seeking a change in the zoning bylaw that would allow him to build the hotel at Waubeeka to make the golf course sustainable. But that request has met opposition by some members of the Planning Board and some residents of South Williamstown who are concerned with elements of the project — particularly its scope.

A zoning bylaw change was proposed to the Williamstown Planning Board, but was stalled by a resolution that prevented it from moving forward in time to get on the Town Meeting warrant on May 17.

As a result, Deep's attorney has filed the citizens petition for the zoning change to be considered at Town Meeting instead. The concessions would be presented as an amendment to the petition if the voters agree.

Among the changes is a reduction of the footprint of the plan to 10 acres, down from 40 acres, on which to build any structures. He is also offering to move the proposed hotel structure from a 500-foot setback from the road to a 2,500-foot setback by locating the hotel on land currently used as a driving range.

Opponents had suggested that 40 acres would give a developer too much leeway and would allow development along the roadside.

"I would be willing to increase the 500 feet setback to 2,500 feet, still limiting the envelope to 10 acres," Deep wrote.

He also is offering to cap the hotel at 120 rooms. And the proposed bylaw, he noted, clearly states "that as long as there is a hotel in the Waubeeka Overlay District, no houses will be permitted to be built."

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Some neighbors expressed a fear that he would be permitted to build homes on the property, but Deep changed the proposal to prohibit that possibility, he said during an interview with The Eagle.

"As long as there's a hotel there, we'll never, ever build residential homes," he said.

In another concession, Deep offered to change a proposed definition of a hotel that includes the possibility of time-share ownership to be limited to the proposed overlay district, rather than allowing it for the whole town.

"Since the South Williamstown neighbors have asked for a narrower by-law, I believe the above clearly satisfies that request and addresses each of their concerns," Deep wrote. "Hopefully, if we are all reasonable, together we can build a wonderful entrance to our southern gateway and not divide our neighbors against one another."

Sherwood Guernsey, who lives near the golf course, said the changes still allow for too much leeway to build a hotel that is too big for the area.

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"I welcome Mr. Deep's suggestions, especially after months of requesting substantive changes," Guernsey said via email. "However, his conditional 10-acre proposal with 120 rooms is still far bigger than the proposal he originally showed to the Planning Board and residents a few short months ago: a 3-5 acre 'country inn boutique,' to use his words."

Guernsey said Deep should scale the project back.

"The 3-5 acre proposal with strong open space protection was something for which I and many others have expressed support," he said. "He should stay with what he originally proposed."

Guernsey also expressed dissatisfaction with the concept of time shares, and the citizens petition process itself.

"Mr. Deep and the petition signers should withdraw their present petition, put together a much tighter bylaw — with the original size project and strong open space protections — return to the Planning Board, provide the information they requested, and get a proposal that everyone can support."

Another neighbor, Bruce MacDonald, also acknowledged that the changes are a step in the right direction, but not enough. He also preferred a smaller footprint — 5 acres at the most. And capping the rooms at 120 is twice what it should be, he added.

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The citizens petition would have to pass by a two-thirds majority, as mandated by state law. The citizens petition can only be amended at town meetings.

If the petition were to pass, the zoning would be in place, and Deep would be free to move into design phase in preparation for further approvals from the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Conservation Commission, among others.

Deep has said the hotel proposal is an attempt to find new sources of revenue that would keep the golf course afloat. Without it, he said, Waubeeka Golf Links is steadily losing money and would likely go out of business, leaving about 40 employees without jobs.

Deep's attorney, Stan Parese, said the concessions Deep is offering are consequential, and significantly reduce the potential for development at the course, thereby significantly reducing his profit potential.

In addition, there have been some questions raised about information Deep presented in three text ads he sponsored on the local Time Warner cable channel.

Both Deep and Parese concede that the details and wording in the ads are not accurate, but the overall point remains true — that a hotel on the golf course will generate in the range of $400,000 to $700,000 in annual tax revenues to the town projected to begin in 2020, an amount that would significantly offset the debt service payments which will finance the construction of a new Mount Greylock High School.

When writing the adds, Deep underestimated the amount of property tax revenue that would be generated, and overestimated the amount that would be raised by room and sales taxes. But the total amount was still a conservative estimate, Parese noted.

According to Parese, with a projected Williamstown property tax rate of $18 per $1,000 of assessed property value (the current tax rate is $15.79 per $1,000, but will increase with the cost of new school construction and normal increases in the cost of town operations), the hotel and golf course would generate roughly $394,000 annually if the property is assessed at $25 million.

If assessed at $35 million, that project tax revenue increases to about $552,000. If assessed at $45 million, the tax generated would approach $710,000 every year.

The room and sales tax would likely generate an additional annual amount of roughly $50,000 for the town, Parese noted.

"We'll stand corrected on those ads," Parese said, "but the bottom line is that a half a million dollars in tax revenue is a conservative estimate."


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