Monthly Archives: August 2014

Neighborhood Character

The applicant’s website makes the following statement regarding “neighborhood character”:

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Strangely, the above seems to imply that neighborhood character is something to be seen but not lived; that character is just a series of snap shots or postcards. That is not how our neighborhood understands character.

At the moment, Old Stockbridge Road remains a quiet, family-oriented, pedestrian-friendly low-key neighborhood with a balanced mix of year-round and seasonal residents. The onset of construction chaos and excavators, followed by headlights at night, round the clock commercial and service vehicles, hotel and restaurant staff shift changes, endless streams of transient guests speeding back and forth to various events, parking lots for 160 cars, and a general continuous year-round commercialized buzz at the heart of the historic landscape would have severe detrimental impacts to the existing character of the neighborhood, both in the present and in the future.

Both the applicant and town officials should listen more carefully to residents who have lived in the neighborhood, in some cases for many decades. We know the quality of life that we now have; and we know what we stand to lose. The commercial footprint for this proposed giant step commercial expansion would be extremely heavy, forever changing the human ecology and balance of the neighborhood. With regards to the road itself, both Stockbridge and Lenox would lose one of the Berkshire’s priceless historic assets. A pedestrian-friendly and compellingly beautiful former Gilded Age carriage path would be transformed into just another run-of-the-mill commercial thoroughfare. Pedestrians, children and bicyclists will be driven off our road, to find safer rural byways.

As for their statement that this massive resort represents the “smallest possible development”: that one defies all reason. Where are the marketing studies that back this statement up? Where is the business plan? Where is the analysis, or the rational argument? More than doubling the size of an enormous existing mansion is the “smallest possible development”?

As for the statement about historic preservation, we reply that history is more than views and mansions. The fastest way we can think of to destroy the gracious historic character of our scenic former carriage path and revolutionary-era post road would be to build a massive commercial resort.



What About Traffic?

On the developer’s own website, we find the following highly misleading statement:


Their study centers on a purely quantitative analysis called “level of service”. For example, they ask if the increase in hundreds of cars and trucks per day will delay a resident on Bean Hill Road from turning left onto Old Stockbridge Road. Then they generate reams of data taken over a few sample hours during the week to cook up the inevitable answer: No Impact.

Though in our view such studies represent the most crass form of pseudo-science, let’s assume there are no problems on the quantitative side of the street. The problem is, we live on the qualitative side of the street. And there is simply no way to argue that the noise and safety impacts of hundreds of service trucks and cars will not detract from the quality of life on our quiet, residential and pedestrian-friendly street. There is also no way to argue that hundreds of trucks and cars will not change the qualitative experience of the road for visiting pedestrians and bicyclists. In fact, they will soon be erased from the scene, and will seek quiet by-ways elsewhere.

While there may be no impact regarding level of service, the impact on our quality of life will be dramatic. As an illustration, let’s imagine the pool at the proposed 15,000 square foot Travaasa spa. Now in terms of it’s “level of service”, it is likely to be able to accommodate hundreds of human bodies, and perhaps even a shark or two. But is this really the quality of a “memorable journey” that the brand “Travaasa” is meant to represent? We doubt it.



Finally, Amstar/Travaasa references having made a “commitment” to a sidewalk. But have they asked all residents who actually live on the street if we want a sidewalk? Many of us absolutely reject such a “gift”. A sidewalk will destroy any last vestige of Old Stockbridge Road as a historic, scenic by-way through the Gilded Age estate area. Build a sidewalk, and Old Stockbridge Road may as well be renamed Route 7B.

Have they approached the Town of Lenox with the idea of a sidewalk, since the roadway is in Lenox? Not that we know of. What we do know is that they need a sewer line extension that would carve up the road for months on end, for the benefit of one corporate customer, with unknown and unmeasured impacts on Lenox infrastructure. Maybe the sidewalk is just a spray of perfume to cover up the stink?

A Way Forward

Periodic major expansions in scale for the proposed resort have plagued the planning/permitting process from the start. In early meetings, the number of rooms was variably provided as 40 or 60, most of which were to be located in the existing mansion. Later, this grew to 80, then to 96 and finally to the current size of 112 rooms, most of which would be located in the proposed huge annex.

Over the same period of time, the restaurant has been variably described as “well off in the future”, or as “a small cafe”, or as “only for guests”, prior to its current iteration as a 60-seat full service restaurant open to the public.

The spa, early on, was described as “more like a workout facility”, yet soon ballooned to a 15,000 square foot pamper pavilion complete with swimming pool. To us, all this has seemed like a classic bait & switch strategy – the antithesis of a process where consensus is sought among all interested parties, through an open and transparent dialogue.

Recently, we sent a letter to the CEO of Amstar inviting his representatives to sit down with us in good faith and to seek common ground, and a way forward. Obviously, we are not interested in negotiating the location of parking lots; we hope they will commit to a process that will involve planning professionals from both Lenox and Stockbridge, as well as neighbors and other concerned parties, to approach the future of Elm Court with an open mind. If they are willing to make such a commitment, we are certain that there is a plan for this property that would satisfy the interests of all parties, including investors.

UPDATE AUGUST 18: Unfortunately, Front Yard/Travaasa/Amstar has indicated that they are not inclined to reduce the scale of their proposal, nor to participate in a different kind of process, built on consensus and transparency. It was worth a try, and at least on our side, the door remains open, should they wish to reconsider.