Category Archives: front yard llc

As We Predicted

From the recent edition of “Travel Weekly”:

Miraval Group has acquired the Travaasa Austin Resort from Amstar Group and will spend the next two years expanding and redeveloping the 220-acre property into what will become the Miraval Austin.

Miraval will increase the hotel’s room count to 120 from 70, expand the property’s main restaurant and more the double the spa space. Miraval plans to finish the redevelopment in January 2019.

Miraval, which operates its eponymous resort in Tucson, Ariz., earlier this year took over spa operations at Southern California’s Monarch Beach Resort as part of its expansion plans for its Life in Balance Spa brand. Miraval also said this year that it will redevelop the Cranwell Resort in western Massachusetts.

As opponents of the Dumb Growth project to “save” the rotting Gilded Age pile known as Elm Court by building a massive new big box franchise-style hotel have stated from the start: Amstar, the Otto Happel family office real estate portfolio, is not in the hospitality business.

Amstar buys and flips commercial properties. Most of their total return is generated in the exit strategy, also known as “the grave”. We suspect that main investor Otto Happel has decided to exit the “Travaasa wellness” delusion entirely, and that a sale of the Hawaii property will follow soon. Then what happens with Elm Court?

Bamboozled by unrealistic expectations of tax revenues, boards in the towns of Stockbridge and Lenox failed to grasp what was behind the bizarre idea of using a derelict mansion as a fig leaf for a Courtyard By Mariott or Hilton Gardens, or whatever is at the end of the exit ramp when Amstar dumps the property.

Let us hope that opponents of the development scheme prevail in their appeal of the hasty, ill-considered decision to approve a project that sacrifices the legitimate interests of a residential neighborhood to a handful of real estate speculators. Let us also hope that Amstar investor Otto Happel has a closer look at what his managers have been up to and concludes that building a project in a neighborhood overwhelmingly opposed to the idea is just plain bad business.

The purchaser of the Travaasa “flagship” in Austin, Miraval, recently purchased the nearby Cranwell resort, slated for significant expansion during 2017. With massive development also proposed for the former Desisto property across the town boundary in Stockbridge, we ask once again: how is any of this sustainable? Dumb Growth compounds to absurdity and then inevitably collapses.

 

 

No Other Recourse

Many people have asked us over the past several months why residents in the Old Stockbridge Road neighborhood did not appeal the sham process conducted by the Stockbridge Board of Selectmen. The answer is simple: we had every confidence that the process in Lenox would be held to a far higher standard, and that the letter and spirit of the Lenox Zoning Bylaw would be vigorously upheld.

Alas, such confidence was misplaced. Over the course of several confused and chaotic meetings, conducted with little direction or focus on verifiable facts, the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) appeared not to comprehend what it was supposed to be doing, namely, evaluating the Amstar/Front Yard LLC proposal with strict reference to the Lenox Zoning Bylaw. In fact, references to the Bylaw were few and far between, crowded out by grandstanding and cheerleading in favor of Front Yard’s ludicrous scheme to “save” the derelict mansion by building a second massive pile right next door.

Supporters of the project were permitted long, rambling and irrelevant riffs on the vast riches that would instantly flow into every Lenox pocket from the Elm Court gold mine, while opponents were chastised and dismissed. Meanwhile, throughout this sad spectacle, serious safety questions regarding the profoundly inadequate traffic study submitted by the applicant, as well as a host of other issues, remained unanswered and unexamined. The representatives from Amstar/Front Yard would simply object that even minor restraints on activity would dig into their profit margins (extracted at the expense of many lifelong residents) and the ZBA would instantly cave in.

Numerous invitations from the neighborhood to sit down with the applicant and the town to try to find some reasonable common ground were ignored. In addition, several attempts from residents to point out how the application did not meet the high standard appropriate for a project of this size were suppressed.

From the beginning, the neighborhood has sought reasonable compromise and moderation, with countless suggestions for intelligent and thoughtful checks and balances. The neighborhood would openly welcome any proposal that respected our own history and interests. Dropping a huge resort with spa and restaurant into the very heart of a long-standing historic residential neighborhood in One Big Dump is EXTREME — unprecedented in the Berkshires.  Smart Growth criteria, to which Lenox has long paid lip service, were thrown under the Amstar/Front Yard bulldozer. The result? A project that would bring the most Dumb Growth imaginable, bringing profit to a handful of speculative investors while negatively impacting one of the town’s most distinctive and established residential neighborhoods.

With no other recourse, in defense of their rights to the safe enjoyment of their own properties, a number of residents in the neighborhood decided to file an appeal with state Land Court.

The promoters for a project of this massive scale in a neighborhood where the vast majority of residents are opposed should at least be obliged to obey the law. Have they? With the filing of a broad-reaching appeal that challenges numerous aspects of the ZBA’s decision and conditions, that is now for the Land Court to decide. We look forward to the forthcoming process. At the very least, we should be able to answer a number of questions that have haunted this process from the very start, questions that town officials in both Stockbridge and Lenox appeared determined never to ask.