Monthly Archives: May 2015

The New Normal

We note with interest the below screen shot taken from realtor.com: thenewnormal? Fact 1: The realtor for the property, a Mr. Charles Gillett, is a Selectmen in the Town of Stockbridge. He voted in favor of Elm Court in a hearing for a special permit viewed by many of those present as profoundly flawed and prejudicial. Mr. Gillett was so enthusiastic in his endorsement of the big-box spa hotel that he had written his “finding” prior to the conclusion of the public hearing.

Fact 2: The property listed above, located at 5A Butler Road, is owned by family of the lead counsel for Front Yard LLC during the Stockbridge hearing.

To be clear: we are not stating that this provides any evidence of impropriety. For surely such things as cronyism and pay-per-permit could never happen in the land of Norman Rockwell, where high ethical standards are paramount — right?

A member of a Special Permit Granting Authority (in Stockbridge, the Board of Selectmen) stands to benefit from the sale of property belonging to a family member of the attorney for a real estate corporation that has proposed a massive expansion of commercial use in the heart of a residential neighborhood. So what?

Nothing to see here. An innocent coincidence. Definitely. That must be it. And in the galleries of the Normal Rockwell Museum, if you  listen carefully, you can hear the termites chewing the picture frames.

Occupy Elm Court?

Lenox-ZBA-470x353

From our perspective, the public review of the Front Yard/Amstar proposal for Elm Court represents a Berkshires variation on a “too big to fail” bail-out, strikingly similar to the sorts of public bail-outs of fraudulent corporate activities during the financial crisis of 2008-2009, bail-outs that precipitated the Occupy movement.

In the case of Elm Court, a wealthy family (Vanderbilt-Wilde-Berle) has allowed their sprawling mega-mansion to decay, and then has effectively transferred the cost of the repair to the public, by selling the derelict property to a corporate “partner” who will dump a four-story spa hotel into the heart of our densely settled residential neighborhood, all in the name of “saving” Elm Court.

We are disappointed that our local boards appear to be playing along with this toxic bail-out, without giving serious, detailed consideration to the carefully researched and wide-ranging objections submitted by the neighborhood.

Elm Court is not the only history worth preserving. Our neighborhood, including other former Gilded Age properties such as Bishop Estate and Winden Hill, has its own strong, vital history worthy of respect and preservation. Instead, we now face a future of digital speed signs, road-widenings and other so-called traffic calming measures that will forever change one of the most distinctive and appealing roads in the Berkshires. Over the long run, this will be seen as a profound loss to the town, and to the Berkshires.

Why has everyone — from Selectmen to town staff — so passively lined up behind such a preposterous scheme, without exploring more sustainable and more reasonable alternative uses? Why is the disrepair of a private property, once owned by one of the wealthiest families in United States history, a matter of public interest? Is there some deeply entrenched pattern of obedience to the Lord of the Manor in play here?

From the start of this long process, the applicant has refused to budge on the core issues of massive scale and high intensity of use. We hope that the Lenox ZBA will listen carefully to the depth and seriousness of our concerns, and impose strict conditions on the special permit, introducing a measure of moderation and balance to Front Yard LLC’s monolithic proposal.

Without such moderation and restraint, Front Yard can be  sure that the neighborhood will be openly hostile to their wretched big-box “Travaasa” spa-hotel for many years to come. Further, the town of Lenox will have alienated an entire neighborhood by selling us out to a shadowy real estate “fund” who successfully played rope-a-dope with town boards, slipping through review with major aspects of their plans left undisclosed and undiscussed.

The problem with such actions? Public trust and good will are currencies you can only spend once. Once they are gone, they are likely gone for a long time.