Tag Archives: Elm Court development

What About Traffic?

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

traffictravaasa

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.

DON'T WORRY: NO IMPACT ON LEVEL OF SERVICE!

DON’T WORRY: NO IMPACT ON LEVEL OF SERVICE!

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. 

 

A Neighborhood In Danger

COMMERCIAL TRAFFIC PROHIBITED: MEGA-RESORT PERMITTED?COMMERCIAL TRAFFIC PROHIBITED: MEGA-RESORT PERMITTED?

“Every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require.” – Theodore Roosevelt

A Denver-based real estate corporation named Amstar (aka Green Tea LLC, Travaasa Resorts or Front Yard LLC) is proposing to transform the Elm Court Estate into a major commercial resort with 112 rooms, a sixty-seat public restaurant and a 15,500 square foot spa that will also be open to the public. Together with the enormous four-story hotel Annex, this additional building complex more than doubles the square footage of an already very large existing mansion (one of many tramplings upon the Stockbridge zoning by-law), bringing the total square footage to over 115,000 square feet!

The Old Stockbridge Road Neighborhood Association strongly opposes this huge project in our quiet residential neighborhood, and urges the Lenox Board of Selectmen to reject Amstar’s application for a special permit, since Stockbridge made a mockery of their own public hearing. Please note that everyone who lives in the neighborhood – full-time or part-time, year-round or seasonally, as an owner or as a tenant, in Stockbridge or Lenox – has the right to oppose this Special Permit.

EC

THE AMSTAR RESORT WOULD DOUBLE THE SIZE OF THIS MASSIVE EDIFACE WHILE DESTROYING THE CHARACTER OF THE EXISTING NEIGHBORHOOD

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Why do you oppose this proposal?

We believe that a project of this scale, essentially the same size as the Cranwell Resort on Route 7, will make a very substantial and negative impact on our quiet residential neighborhood. The Amstar proposal represents one of the largest expansions of commercial use ever proposed in Berkshire County — on a narrow, hilly road, in a family-oriented established neighborhood. Bad for the Berkshires, bad for the two towns, and of course bad for the neighborhood. We also oppose the unwillingness of the applicant to share information critical to evaluating the public interest, and their repeated “bait & switch” changes in the definition of what they intend to do.

But hasn’t Amstar presented a traffic study that shows very little impact?

First, this sort of purely quantitative study, paid for by the applicant, is not appropriate for assessing changes in quality of life and in the residential character of our neighborhood.  Second, Old Stockbridge Road is not Route 7 or 7a. We are a narrow, hilly road with many houses quite close to the street. That means that even relatively small numbers of cars and trucks will have a very significant impact on our right to enjoy our own property in peace and quiet, in our residential zone.

exclusion

Why should we object since the Annex as proposed won’t be visible from Old Stockbridge Road?

That remains to be seen.  But we will definitely see hundreds and hundreds of guest and employee cars as well as delivery trucks and day visitors going in and out of Elm Court day and night.  During the day we’ll see and hear guests using the property.  At night we’ll see lights from 112 guest-rooms and music and noise from parties, banquets and weddings, together with endless headlights from cars arriving and departing Elm Court. Permitting a public restaurant and spa also sets a dangerous precedent, allowing more and more commercial enterprises on our scenic road, and others like it.

Yes, but if this does not go forward, won’t Elm Court become a ruin?

No. Their argument that we must accept this out-of-scale proposal or Elm Court will revert to how it was in 1999 is a scare tactic, and is absolutely false. There are many viable options for the sustainable use of the property that have not been explored, options that will be in keeping with the rest of our neighborhood.  In fact, we do support the preservation of the original mansion but not with a huge commercial Annex, which nearly doubles its size.  To argue that the only way to “save Elm Court” is to destroy the neighborhood is utter nonsense. The neighborhood is wide open to reasonable proposals; this huge mega-resort is not reasonable. We believe it is also illegal.

What do you mean by that?

According to the Bylaws, a special permit can only be approved if certain conditions are met, both within the general zoning bylaws, and within the special bylaw governing the former Berkshire “cottages”.  After consultation with leading land use experts and attorneys, we do not believe these conditions have been met. The bylaws are there to protect the community from inappropriate development schemes, such as the one proposed by Amstar. We will insist that the law be upheld.

What is your biggest worry?

We are particularly concerned with the detrimental impact on the established and future character of Old Stockbridge Road as a neighborhood for a diverse mix of year-round and seasonal residents. At the proposed scale, Elm Court threatens to destroy our quiet, family-friendly residential street. Will we become a “resort neighborhood”, as year-round families move elsewhere? We understand that they intend to transform Elm Court into a “wedding mill”; will these events be alcohol free? We doubt it. Families with young children will not move to a neighborhood with such a huge year-round party house right next door.

Do we really want even want more traffic on Old Stockbridge Road, including large numbers of trucks and delivery vehicles? Does Lenox truly think it is appropriate to have a business the size of Cranwell dropped by outside investors into the middle of an existing, long-established quiet residential neighborhood? Do we want a public restaurant, serving wine and liquor, located on a winding rural road, with its low lighting, and many hills? Do we want even more chaos at the difficult intersection by the monument? Do those who love Berkshire history think that it is appropriate that the existing Elm Court mansion will be used as a fig leaf for the 96-room “annex” that to us looks very similar to a franchise-style big-box hotel?

Aren’t you just being NIMBYs?

No. We would welcome a proposal that makes sense: for the neighborhood, for the towns of Lenox and Stockbridge, and for the Berkshires. Yet this proposal makes no planning sense whatsoever. There is no Master Plan, no Gateway Study, and no Green Belt evaluation that indicates that yes, this is a reasonable location for a major commercial development. How can we make a decision of this consequence without the necessary tools? Do we really want intensive commercial use at the heart of one of our most historic and scenic neighborhoods? What kind of precedent will this set for major commercial developments elsewhere in the Berkshires?

But isn’t this good for the economy?

No. Our economy depends on protecting the special historic and aesthetic qualities of Lenox and the Berkshires. If we turn beautiful, quiet and historic neighborhoods like Old Stockbridge Road into commercial thoroughfares, we are undermining the very foundation of our future. Further, there is substantial evidence that suggests we already have too much hotel capacity in the county. Will this mid-market franchise-style hotel be the final blow to our struggling B & Bs? Finally, most of the jobs created by this resort will be low-paying service jobs, not the sort of creative economy growth we are trying to attract, for long-term vitality and growth. In any event, it is impossible to know what economic impact the resort would have, since the applicant refuses to divulge any details about its business plan. We believe that this refusal raises serious questions about their commitment to the Berkshires, and to the local economy. They intend to make their money on the EXIT from this property, not in its sustainable operation.

Where do things stand right now?

The Board of Selectmen, in their role as the Special Permitting Granting Authority, gave permission to Front Yard LLC to proceed with their plans. We believe the process was extremely flawed, and was essentially a sham, or a sort of kangaroo hearing, but the standard of proof for corruption essentially requires cancelled checks delivered from developers to officials, and such evidence we do not have. We presume the applicant will now move on to Lenox, where they also will require a separate special permit from the Lenox ZBA as well as a sewerage permit from the Lenox Board of Selectmen. We can only hope and trust that Lenox will subject the deeply flawed proposal to a higher standard of review, and think long term, beyond the quick fix of fees.

Note: Unfortunately, the Lenox ZBA declined to do their job, and caved in to speculative cheerleading from various commercial interests. 

osrna1 OK, so what can I do to help?

Lenox residents: Let the Lenox Board of Selectmen know that traffic is already at a tipping point on Old Stockbridge Road, and that the road is already becoming unsafe for pedestrians, children and bicyclists. Let them know how much we all value our quiet neighborhood, and that an enormous commercial entity would have very negative impacts. They want to hear from you — in writing, or in the open comment session that begins each meeting.

Sign our petition, which is available at the Edmonds residence, at 316 Old Stockbridge Road, and now numbers close to one hundred signatures.

Talk to your neighbors, and carefully consider what this supersized resort will mean to all of us who have lived here for many years and even decades, and who love the special qualities of Old Stockbridge Road as a non-commercial residential scenic and historic road. Join our email list, and come to our meetings.

Call 637-2676 or email info(at)osrna.org. osrna3 “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”        – Margaret Mead