SPRING LAWN: WHERE VERY DIFFERENT CONDITIONS APPLY
The town of Lenox recently permitted a development of the former Spring Lawn mansion that will eventually be similar in size to the resort proposed by Front Yard LLC for Elm Court. From a town planning point of view, the Spring Lawn proposal had a number of obvious strengths:
1. The entrance is on a major state road, Route 7A, with sidewalks, clear sight lines and a bicycle lane. The road is also engineered to state specifications, able to absorb high levels of commercial traffic.
2. Spring Lawn is located at the edge of town, meaning that key infrastructure already exists to support the development; it also means that guests are likely to walk at least some of the time, to access restaurants and cultural attractions in Lenox.
3. The development strategy is incremental, meaning that the owners will begin with renovations of the existing mansion and carriage house, and then assess impacts and economics prior to proceeding to the next stage. We see this incrementalism as both prudent and sound not just for the owner/developers, but also for the town and for neighbors.
4. The owner/developers worked hard, over the course of many years, to build consensus and address the concerns of key stakeholders. They also have history and roots in Berkshire County, and we take them at their word that they will be accountable and responsible regarding neighborhood impacts.
Now let’s look at the Front Lawn LLC proposal for Elm Court, where not a single one of these positive qualities applies:
1. The entrance is on Old Stockbridge Road, a narrow country lane that was formerly an estate carriage path, a road with no shoulders and many blind spots. The road carries an existing commercial traffic exclusion, meaning that it has not been engineered to absorb large numbers of service vehicles.
2. Elm Court is located over a mile from Lenox town, meaning that guests are likely to drive up and down the road, with multiple trips per day. Elm Court also has no existing sewage tie-in; the Lenox line would have to be extended south for at least a half mile. The impact of this construction will be huge, and potentially damaging to Gilded Age storm drains, architectural features and legacy trees.
3. The Front Lawn application represents one of the largest expansions of commercial use in the hospitality sector ever proposed in Berkshire County, from the existing 19 rooms to 112 rooms, all in one giant step. This means that there will be no checks nor balances along the way. It also means that once the Annex is built, there will no longer be any flexibility within the use for the property in the future; for example, it will never be able to be converted back to a private residence, nor to a luxury Country Inn like Blantyre or Wheatleigh.
4. Front Lawn LLC is an investment vehicle affiliated with a Denver-based real estate fund that specializes in flipping properties. They are accountable to their investors, not to the towns, and not to neighbors. Yes, we know all about “Travaasa”, but there is no guarantee that these branded resorts will not eventually be sold. Amstar generates most of their profits on exiting properties, in a strategy they call “Cradle to Grave”.
Maybe Spring Lawn will have problems with sustainability through time, but at least the project makes some sense from a planning point of view. The Front Yard project makes no sense whatsoever, will have massive negative impacts, and should be rejected in favor of a use that will be in harmony with the residential character of the existing neighborhood.