Supporters of the big-box franchise-style hotel “annex” plus the public spa and large restaurant now being proposed for Elm Court continue to play the emotional card: either build this massive resort or Elm Court will collapse into ruin.
To be blunt, this argument is total nonsense. There are many alternative uses; and there is certainly a far better process for building consensus and conceiving a sustainable future use for the property, one that does not create economic viability by destroying the existing neighborhood.
The Board of Selectmen could establish a committee of neighbors, concerned citizens and planning officials from both Stockbridge and Lenox to research alternatives. Just to get the ball rolling, here are a few ideas.
1. A smaller spa hotel with 32 rooms, 16 of which would be located in a wing similar in architectural style to the present “Billiard” wing, or put additional guest rooms in one of the houses on the southern end of the property (the Gardener’s Cottage, the Butler’s Cottage, the Stables, etc.).
2. Finish restoration of the mansion; involve Trustees of Reservations in running Elm Court as an historic hotel similar to but larger than the lovely restored mansion, The Inn at Castle Hill, on the Crane Estate run by the Trustees of Reservations. All rooms and facilities within the existing footprint. True restoration!
3. A development similar to Bishop Estate, which has 19 houses with most land held in common, as part of restored Beartix Ferrand landscape plan.
4. A development similar to Winden Hill, which has 28 units, in roughly 12 buildings on 60 acres.
5. Try again in this time of economic recovery to sell to an individual who would restore the building for personal use or for use as a luxury boutique Hotel.
6. Attract a small organization (think tank, academic research center, graduate program in 19th century American studies, etc.) to make Elm Court its headquarters, similar to the American Institute for Economic Research in Great Barrington.
7. Restore Elm Court to its original, smaller size and make it the Club House/Event Space for an association of architecturally harmonious houses on estate grounds.
These various approaches are only a start. Surely, a committee charged with exploring these and other concepts could develop a solid list of ideas worth exploring in more detail, with input from planning professionals. Rushing a project of this scale virtually guarantees massive unintended consequences. Let’s slow down, begin again and do it right!