Another Bridge Street hotel plan being readied, this one at Log Homes site

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By Thursday, Nov 19 News  36 Comments
David Scribner
The former New England Log Homes site, owned by the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire, is now under consideration as the location for a hotel, with a feasibility study being prepared by the Toole Lodging Group of Lenox.

Great Barrington — In a new twist to the ever shifting plans for developments on Bridge Street, Lenox-based hotel developer Joseph M. Toole of Toole Lodging Group yesterday confirmed he has signed an agreement with Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDC) to study whether a hotel on the former New England Log Homes site would be economically viable.

The news of this feasibility study comes as hotel developer Vijay Mahida is steeped in controversy over his changing proposal to raze the historically designated former Searles Middle and High School — just across the river from the Log Homes site — to build a 95-room “up scale” hotel, The Berkshire. Mahida is now redesigning the hotel to comply with a town’s 45-room limit bylaw by preserving a portion of the old structure. The Selectboard will decide on December 16 whether Mahida can be issued a special permit.

Mahida declined to comment. CDC Executive Director Tim Geller could not be reached.

The Toole Lodging Group redeveloped the former St. Mary's School into the Chambery Inn on Main Street in Lee, Mass. (above).

The Toole Lodging Group redeveloped the former St. Mary’s School into the Chambery Inn on Main Street in Lee, Mass. (above).

Toole says he plans merely to study the possibilities until the Selectboard’s decision. He said he and the CDC, which he approached with the idea, “will not be actively promoting this, but will wait and see what happens with the other hotel.” He said he didn’t want to “stir the pot more than it already is.”

The CDC, he added, sees this as a “Plan B” for the original ideas for a $40 million mixed use development, and was obliged to entertain “someone with a credible idea,” given the challenges of developing the still-contaminated 8-acre parcel.

The Berkshire Co-op Market and the CDC have for several years discussed the possibility of the Co-op moving to the Log Homes location with the expanded market serving as anchor tenant. But those plans appeared to have grown shaky as no commitments were made and the Co-op began casting its gaze elsewhere. It is unclear right now where it stands. Co-op Board of Directors President Dan Seitz could not be reached for comment.

Toole said there were “no discussions” that a hotel would become the anchor, or replace the space where the Co-op may still go in a larger design that includes affordable and market rate housing, retail and office space, and open space along the restored banks of the Housatonic River.

A source familiar with the CDC’s plans, but who declined to be identified for this story, said the CDC would have control over the hotel’s design.

Another Toole Lodging Group project: The new Marriott Courtyard set to be built on Routes 7 and 20 in the Lenox 'gateway.' now under development by theToole Lodging Group on Route 20 and 7 in Lenox.

Another Toole Lodging Group project: The new Marriott Courtyard set to be built on Routes 7 and 20 in the Lenox ‘gateway.’

Toole, who has development experience with historic preservation and adaptive reuse, says his idea is flexible and dependent on the feasibility study and public input about design, which he plans to begin gathering after the New Year should the Mahidas’ special permit be rejected. He says there is a market for a “boutique-style concept that integrates things that are important to the community, something health-oriented and environmentally sensitive.”

“It’s blank canvas,” he added. “But if my project doesn’t fit, then I’m not going to pursue it.”

Toole Lodging Group also owns and operates the 80-room Hampton Inn & Suites and the 96-room Yankee Inn, both in Lenox, and the Yankee Suites Extended Stays in Pittsfield.

Toole said his study would involve determining how much space he would need. He said he envisioned room numbers in the “upper 70s to mid 80s…nobody is doing [45 or less] anywhere,” he added. “You need to have [the larger] scale to make the investment work.”

“The economics don’t work under 45,” he said. Less than that number, he said, is “a de facto killer.”

So like  the Mahidas, Toole will have to find a way around the 45-room limit bylaw. His attorney, Richard Dohoney of Donovan & O’Connor thinks he’s found one. Dohoney suggested an amendment to the 45-room limit bylaw that might allow lifting the room cap for development on what Toole calls a “troubled property.”

The 8-acre site still requires a clean-up of contaminants deposited there by the Log Homes company. A bioremediation project stalled last year over various issues, and CDC Executive Director Tim Geller recently said the site is now on track for capping, or sealing off the polluted soil. Should Toole’s plans move forward, the amendment would be submitted for a vote at the next Annual Town Meeting, in May of 2016.

Sources familiar with the CDC’s role say it has a responsibility to develop the former Log Homes site to provide housing and retail, and a further responsibility to provide affordable housing and jobs. Sources also say the CDC is supportive of the Mahidas’ project “to the extent that it complies with town bylaws, etcetera,” and that Toole’s potential project would not compete with the Mahidas’ higher end hotel.

Toole said the CDC has to make sure he is “credible, that this is a serious proposal and to see how things shake out in the town.”

Mahida and Toole have crossed paths before — in court –– as rival hotel developers in Lenox. According to an article in The Berkshire Eagle on September 12, “Mahida…had sought more than $1.5 million from the defendants to compensate for a year of delays in the construction of Mahida’s 95-room Hilton Garden Inn. The hotel eventually opened early this summer…

“A major factor in the delay, the suit contended, resulted after Eastern States Real Estate Management, LLC, a corporation with ties to Toole, purchased a small land parcel along the 270-foot driveway from the highway to the Hilton site and proceeded to challenge access rights for the hotel project.”

Mahida and Toole both agreed to settle the suit in September.

One source says that while this competitive history shouldn’t affect whether the town approves the Mahidas’ special permit application, it could throw the town a curveball. “There’s nothing Toole can do to interfere with Vijay’s proposal. But if Toole says, ‘I want to build,’ then the town’s got a zoning question.”


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36 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Ron Blumenthal says:

    This cavalier move to re-write the bylaw will mobilize a huge movement against the project. Further good news is that real estate development moves very slowly, until it sprints at the end.

    All the various parties looking at the Searles and Log Homes sites, illustrate that the time is growing closer when there will be more options open to the town, and more viable options.

  2. Lauren Clark says:

    What I fail to understand is why if 45 room hotels are not economically viable businesses for these developers why are they even looking at Gt Barrington? Oh, I know-it is clearly to challenge standing laws for their own personal financial gain only. I don’t believe for a second that these are people who care about Gt. Barrington at all.

    1. Carl Stewart says:

      Lauren—

      You don’t need to understand why they are not viable, but they aren’t. Hotel operators can show detailed charts of occupancy rates, per room costs, etc., to graphically illustrate why they need about 80-100 rooms in order to justify operating a hotel. In certain niche markets, different factors are at work and fewer rooms might work.

      The Mahidas will walk away from this project if GB allows a 45-room hotel on the Searles site. They will abandon their idea even if a 65-room hotel is permitted.

      1. Jennifer says:

        Good.

  3. SC says:

    I live in the backyard of these sites and I drive and walk past them multiple times a day. I sincerely hope that we consider proposals for housing over the proposals for hotels. More housing will be a step towards a stronger community.

  4. GMHeller says:

    Too bad Mr. Toole cannot claim the Log Homes Site dirt to be a ‘historic structure’, thereby allowing Toole to exceed the 45-room by-law limit as long as he retains as much as possible the architectural design and character of that dirt when he builds his hotel on top of it.

  5. Martin Albert says:

    Porches in North Adams is 42(?) rooms and they do VERY well. Hotel On North is 45 and they seem off to a good start. It’s nonsense that 45 rooms isn’t viable. It might not be for their “model”, but that is by no means a constant.

    1. Dave Carpenter says:

      Might be helpful for citizens to know that some hotels are local government subsidized, in a variety of ways.

      Before citing specific hotels as successful business models, it might be helpful to understand whether that cited is dependent on local government subsidies. A quick internet search will often identify any subsidies being provided at the local level, for a given hotel.

      Some town and cities may need to subsidize profit making businesses, for whatever reason. I don’t believe that the citizens of Great Barrington need to embrace the subsidy model when an increase in tax revenues, from other than homeowners, is what is needed. That is a personal opinion, and I can understand there are some that might believe government subsidies are somehow a good thing for Great Barrington.

      Great Barrington needs more tax dollars, not less, to address the high school problems that have our young people attending school in an environmentally challenged building.

      To be 100% clear, the Mahida proposal is NOT based on asking for local tax breaks. Instead, the proposed hotel will generate over $450,000 of local tax revenue per year. Paying the “full boat” in property taxes and lodging taxes.

      Finally, with regard to your 45 room suggestion, it has been widely reported that two other reputable hotel companies looked, over the years, at doing a 45 room hotel at Searles. And, both concluded they could not make it work financially. These were two very fine firms, one national and one local.

      More recently, another very successful Berkshire hotel operator announced his interest in building a hotel across the street from Searles. He is quoted in this very publication as saying “The economics don’t work under 45,” he said. Less than that number, he said, is “a de facto killer.” http://theberkshireedge.com/another-bridge-street-hotel-plan-being-readied-this-one-at-log-homes-site/

      Finally, Town passed a bylaw recognizing that certain, limited situations justified flexibility to have more than 45 rooms. Town Counsel, as also reported here on the Edge, has recently provided his opinion as to when more than 45 rooms is allowable under Town bylaws. The proposal being submitted to the Town at the December 16 Selectboard meeting will be responsive to this very helpful Town Counsel opinion.

      Martin, I do hope that you will be able to join the December 16 meeting. Being well informed through participation in the process increases the likelihood that the Selectboard will reach a conclusion that will be understood by all.

      Dave Carpenter
      Director of Administration
      Mahida Family Hospitality Interests

      1. DB says:

        Are you saying specifically that The Porches and the 42 are subsidized? If so , say it please. If not the arguement is irrelevent. Also, please explain your $450,000. Projected tax revenue….you kindly offered to do so for Ms Gregory, but why not all of us who are also unconvinced and interested? The only hoteliers who will insist there is no profit to be made on 45 rooms are the ones whose business plans are not modeled to work on smaller scale. We all know that there are others out ther with plans that could work….just not to fit the Mahidas or other big box hotel plans. To say ‘no one ‘and ‘never ‘only makes me more convinced of the opposite.
        I find thet whenever someone has a crock or boatload of something that is never gonna fly….the chant to resort to will always be…Think of the children!
        And if anyone thinks that this hotel will fix all the woes of GB and its troubled schools….i have a brownfield to sell you.
        I believe the GB was following its chosen path when the 45 room limit was first imposed. GB should hold strong to,what it identifies as its best assests. Hugely historical, small scale, independent strong businesses. Lack of parking has been the one long term gripe about this town…..this would definately not help, maybe it is a ‘de facto killer’.

      2. Ron Blumenthal says:

        Dear Dave,

        You are correct – subsidies must shunned. Yet your attempt to do an endrun around the bylaw is in effect a subsidy, the thing you decry. Evading the bylaw is a subsidy by another name. Let’s be clear about that. You asked for an enormous subsidy.

        And you are right again – both independent counsel and town counsel stated the obvious: knocking down the building the bylaw specifically was enacted to keep intact, neither honors the law nor the wishes of the majority of the town, which passed this law mere months ago. Both legal firms – as well as us mere ignorant civilians – were shocked this was even a question.

        There is no way to tie the speculative tax revenue from this project to the problems with the high school building here. That is as spurious as your business rival, Toole, pouring oil on the fire with his press release about the lot across the street, so let’s drop both these red herrings [perhaps soon there will be enough for a can of herring].

        Now your new plan, to be presented next month, will keep some percentage of the building. Will it be the barest minimum? – the annex piece only? a few doorways? one wing? the steps? the first floor facade only? Will it be a nod to preservation, a token, as in similar corporate projects? Or will you do a true preservation job, as is done in so many successful independent hotels? How independent can it be from the Hilton Garden system really? Who decides how much of the building must be kept, in order to adhere to the bylaw? [i suspect you won’t be asking me]

        The firms that looked at the site previously, during the depths of the financial meltdown were mid-level chain operators. The national economy has rebounded since then; there are indepedent hotel enteprenneurs who could sucessfully navigate a project such as Martin suggests at 45 rooms. And there are other uses possible as well – if, instead of the private offer you received, the property were to be presented on the open market – a lot more would turn up.

        What’s in the middle of these two opposing points of view? The clever Texas gentleman on our planning board could choose to quote his fellow Texan – “the only thing in the middle of the road is a dead armadillo”. Let’s use our Berkshire equivalent – a flattened possum. That type of building would be a sad fate for the Searles school.

      3. Dave Carpenter says:

        Ron, we are doing no “end run” around by laws.

        The Town voted to install a bylaw that specified in certain specific cases that hotels mor than 45 rooms could be bulit. The Mahida’s had nothing to do with that bylaw. Nothing.

        It had been widely reported that the bylaw was crafted as purposely vague so as to generate interest in dealing with Searles. Well, that purpose worked. The Town now has a proposal before it for this property. Like that proposal or not, the bylaw worked to generate interest. Now it is up to Selectboard to apply what they believe the law to be to that proposal. If the citizens want an absolute room limit, they can obviously vote for that in the future. But, for the time being, we have this bylaw that does permit more than 45 rooms under specific circumstances.

        To deal with vagueness of the bylaw ALLOWING more than 45, the Selectboard has requested and received an opinion from Town Counsel. Our presentation to the Selectboard will reflect our listening to that opinion…not your, or anyone elses, interpretation of that opinion.

        We are NOT aware of there being TWO different town opinions as you claim twice in your response. Please enlighten all of us as to the two Town opinions you have seen.

        People interested in this important issue should read the actual opinion, rather than rely on your, or my, interpretation of that opinion. (Or opinions if there are indeed two as you claim.)

        To be clear, no responsible party can build in Great Barrington against the law. Building can only commence with appropriate permits. The Town would undoubtedly move quickly to stop any construction that was not appropriately permitted. I can assue you that any construction done by the Mahida’s will be appropriately permitted so as to be fully lawful.

        I also want to assure all readers that our December 16 presentation to the Selectboard will be very, very specific as to how we believe our revised plans do comply with the Town opinion. Whether we do comply is a matter to be determined fairly by the Selectboard.

        Dave Carpenter
        Director of Administration
        Mahida Family Hospitality Interests

  6. SC says:

    Great Barrington needs to come together and redefine its identity now. Hotel magnates teasing tax dollars are turning heads but 5/10/x years from now, we are going to want more good neighbors, and good spaces for them and us to live.

  7. Laury epstein says:

    David carpenter and other hotel proponents throw around “$450,000” in projected tax revenue as if that figure were handed down from on high. My understanding is that the figure is wildly optimistic to the point of fantasy. The mahida proposal is bad enough without adding phony numbers to its argument.

    1. Dave Carpenter says:

      In an effort to put a stop to this issue, especially in light of Sharon Gregory’s continued campaign to smear the Mahida’s on this and other issues, we have engaged an indpendent accountant to report on this issue directly to the Selectboard. That report will be made available here when it is completed and provided to the Selectboard.

      This is far beyond what any business in Great Barrington has ever done. This sets a dangerous precedent for all businesses contemplating obtaining a permit to start a business in the Town, but all the talk on this issue by opponents is diverting focus from more important issues impacting the future of Great Barrington. So we will obtain an independent report on the issue.

      We have ordered such a report knowing that opponents will then demand another report, and another, and another, each demanded without any credible facts being presented by the opponents. To be clear, we do NOT intend to respond to each outrageous claim by an opponent with yet another independendent report. Hereafter, we will expect opponents to provide copies of their independent studies when making unsubstantiated claims questioining our project numbers.

      We will, of course, continue to respond to responsible questions, civilly presented here.

      Because of the fact that the indpendent report will take some time (there is a holiday coming), I want to reiterate that which we long ago provided to the Town. The $450,000 tax benefit is a combination of expected property tax, and the Town’s share of the state lodging tax. The former is expected to be atleast $200,000, and the latter is expected to be atleast $250,000. The combined benefit to the Town is to expected to be atleast $450,000.

      The reasonableness of this number is proven by the total taxes paid at the Great Barrington Fairfield, owned by Vijay Mahida, which operates with same tax provisions, in same town. The independent report will provide that comparison.

      There is no reason for the Mahida’s to be as you claim “wildly optimistic” about any planned hotel. The Family’s hotels are very large investments. Their track record of local bank support is a function of their ability to deliver to the banks on ALL their promises.

      I am sure the above info, or even the independent report on the $450,000 tax benfit will not change your well known opposition to this project. But, I do expect the report will atleast help citizens to gain additional comfort as to the quality of the information put out by the Mahida’s.

      Dave Carpenter
      Director of Administration
      Mahida Family Hospitality Interests

  8. GMHeller says:

    Dave Carpenter,
    You claim, “We will, of course, continue to respond to responsible questions, civilly presented here.”
    I have repeated requested that Iredale/Mahida post online the application and the various architectural drawings and renderings and Power Point slides presented to the GB Planning Board at its last meeting.
    It’s not an unreasonable request especially since Iredale/Mahida had made it a public record.
    Yet, I and a lot of others are still waiting to be able to review online this material.
    If you really are to be believed that you want this to be an open and transparent process then when are you, as representative of Iredale/Mahida in these comment threads, going to post this material online so the general public and seasonal residents can finally have opportunity to see exactly what Iredale/Mahida are planning for the Searles site?

    1. Dave Carpenter says:

      I have never suggested, in any way, that I represent Iredale as some may infer from your post.

      So the record is clear, I am – as often repeated in my posts here – the Director Of Administration for various companies owned by various members of the Mahida Family. The Family company involved with the Searles is 79 Bridge Street Realty LLC, for whom I serve as Director of Administration.

      Because so many of the issues with Searles involve questions as to other Mahida properties, I use here the umbrella description below. But, the Mahida Family and Iredale Family are obviously two independent families, and two very different entities, in very different businesses.

      Re your posting demand, that issue has been previously adressed in the stream here re Searles.

      It may be helpful for you to know my personal priorities re information. My first priority is to provide the Town what it requires (voluminous). My second priority is to respond here and elsewhere to issues on which the Town may have not yet asked for info, all in the interest of an informed citizenry. My third priority is to make sure that suggestions being submitted re our plans get incorporated into the planned presentation on December 16. What with also having ongoing responsibilities with existing Family owned lodging properties, there are not enough hours in the day to respond to every demand, or even every post here. That has nothing to do with transparency; it is just a reality of my schedule. Reasonable people will, I hope, understand.

      Attendance at our first Selectboard presentation on December 16 is the best way to fully understand our project as that is, after all, our first comprehensive presenation on all the issues. We have been before various other Town boards and committees on various technical issues, but 16th will be first comprehensive presentation to the Selectboard. I Hope you will be able to attend. I believe you will find our presentation that evening to be very informative.

      Dave Carpenter
      Director of Administration
      Mahida Family Hospitality Interests

    2. Carl Stewart says:

      The Mahida Group is not a public body charged with producing public records. There is a very simple procedure by which anyone who wants copies of documents submitted to one of the Great Barrington boards can obtain them; send a request…by email if you wish…to the Town Clerk. If you are not willing to do that simple act, there might be a reasonable suspicion that you, GMHeller, are more interested in making noise than in the documents themselves.

  9. GMHeller says:

    Dave Carpenter,
    Some would call what you are now doing, “Copping out.”
    First, please note that you sign your comments with your official business title, “Dave Carpenter, Director of Administration, Mahida Family Hospitality Interests”. So in that context you portray yourself as speaking in an official capacity for Mr. Mahida, or at minimum for the so-called Mahida Family Hospitality Interests.
    Next, you make specific reference to ‘we’, meaning you and your employer Mahida when you state, “We will, of course, continue to respond to responsible questions, civilly presented here.”
    Yet, when indeed you are presented with a bona fide reasonable request — one for which you have been asked repeatedly — that being to produce and post online documents that already are publicly on file with the Town of Great Barrington in order that the general public may review in detail and at leisure that which is actually being proposed by Mr. Mahida, you now make the excuse that you don’t have the time to engage in transparency and public relations.
    Though, I note that, indeed, you do respond to most every comment thrown your way or about which you perceive it necessary to defend your employer’s interests.
    The Selectmen, at the upcoming December 16th meeting, will be analyzing and addressing the Application, the substance of which is already on file with the Planning Board, along with the supplementary materials — drawings, renderings, and slides — already presented to the Planning Board.
    In the wake of GB Town Counsel’s detailed and eye-opening opinion, your employer will no doubt be supplementing his Application with some new materials for the purpose of accommodating the opinion rendered by Town Counsel.
    Yet, that does not alter the fact that what I have been asking for since the last Planning Board meeting is for Mr. Mahida or his representative simply to post the Application and materials already on file.
    The excuse that you don’t have the time is at best disingenuous, especially if you and your employer truly seek public understanding as to the true scope and intent of this project.
    You claim, “That has nothing to do with transparency; it is just a reality of my schedule.”
    To the contrary, it has EVERYTHING to do with transparency.
    You claim, ” Reasonable people will, I hope, understand.”
    To the contrary, what reasonable people will plainly see and understand is that you and Mr. Mahida, the employer you represent, are dodging a reasonable request for the very information that will inform the public as to the details of the project.
    Further, you claim that, “Attendance at our first Selectboard presentation on December 16 is the best way to fully understand our project as that is, after all, our first comprehensive presenation (sic) on all the issues.”
    Mr. Carpenter, there’s no reason to believe that the public will have any better chance to review the Mahida Application and materials at the December 16th Selectboard meeting than was already provided at the last Planning Board meeting.
    And of PB’s meeting, all the public saw from the audience were a series of hastily presented slides, which on later review in the CTSB video were nearly incomprehensible.
    Therefore, it is misleading and disingenuous for you to offer the December meeting as a carrot to offset a reasonable request today to produce and post online what is already on file so the general public may become fully acquainted with Mr. Mahida’s proposal.

  10. Christopher Owen AIA Architect says:

    Given the fact that fewer and fewer accept the current design, the majority should then rule.

    Is it the almighty $ which is ruling? If so and it appears so this is sad indeed. In many towns there are outstanding buildings that haven’t taken into account the word “profit” and consequently have built according to merit, longevity, and legacy. The question of need, cannot or certainly should not be built in, or rather loopholed into the bylaws, or maybe it can, given everything else that appears to have slipped by and in. A very questionable legacy for Great Barrington if successful! If , on the other hand it does God forbid, why not an high rise!
    Having just returned from The City (NY) there are various and brilliant samples. Sculptured structures that today can only be realized by computer. With an high rise in Great Barrington, consequently a smaller foot print, Searles can then be saved and the number of rooms become unlimited. The higher the more to twist an old and well known phrase. A guaranteed fully occupied structure and tourist attraction. Think of the views. If the majority aren’t happy about this thought I’m sure a loophole” can be found. I’m thinking of the various radio towers “disguised” (ha! ha!) with artificial pine boughs. A pine tree on steroids.

    Additional tax revenue? Why not a museum to honor the Historic Mills of New England? How about a museum of the River itself? The Housatonic River Museum? Coincidentally The River borders the property and nearby mills border the River. Tours can be added to two or three outstanding sites along the River and even to one or more of the Mills also along the River. I’m thinking of one less than 4 miles away that I visited with my then young (8 yrs.) daughter and two of her friends. The vast cellar of which still had and still does have all the machinery, water wheels (wooden!), etc.. A mouth opener, which shortly thereafter became a school project dealing with New England’s principal and noteworthy history. Shoes, paper, cotton, etc.. Think of the potential income from each or better yet, both together. Parking, properly landscaped, becomes acceptable. Room now for an adjunct to the River Walk, a more than appropriate neighbor. The design incorporates and saves, in its entirety, the existing School (with the absolute necessity of removing the terrible infills on the south facade and the original and handsome facade in all likelihood still behind. This essential to the architecture and its historic listing. Typical to many museums The Searles School become a cafeteria, bookstore, and administration above or below. Future lodging, now boutique of 45 rooms or less becomes profitable OR breaks even. A tax incentive for the donor.

    A “slam dunk” and equally important, all of Great Barrington’s businesses grow exponentially, encouraging others to follow. The Project to be opened to an architectural competition and offered to selected architects. This, a mouth watering commission for any Architect! One can pick and choose from the best.

    A dream, NO! NOT AT ALL! With serious thought and a search for donations this would be a unique opportunity to truly put Great Barrington on the map, even moreso than now, and in the black to boot. It requires hard work and patience. What would a few years be compared to Great Barrington for future generations. Michael Conforti succeeded with a relatively small and not well known or visited museum in Williamstown, The Clark.

    An idea and an important one at that just came to mind.

    How to get Jane Iredale on board??? Potentially being the first and perhaps principal donor: “THE JANE IREDALE MUSEUM OF THE HOUSATONIC RIVER AND ITS MILLS”. A generous donation in the name of her Company would open many doors to others. What could become better publicity for her and her business? What better for Great Barrington?

    Christopher Owen

    1. Dave Carpenter says:

      As one of the architects/area citizens we have spent the most time listening to, and having reflected so many of the changes that YOU suggested to the Planning Board were needed, I am saddened to see you advocating rejection before you even see our revised plan that reflects your changes (a plan still being finalized).

      Vijay Mahida personally explained to you that your input had been taken very seriously, and you will soon see that is very much case.

      We are genuinely grateful for your many suggestions.

      Dave Carpenter
      Director of Administration
      Mahida Family Hospitality Interests

    2. SC says:

      Thank you, Christopher

  11. Christopher Owen AIA Architect says:

    Dear Dave,
    I do very much look forward to seeing the revised design and hope that much of what I said in my comment of November 21st was understood to be in jest, certainly insofar as my suggestion of an high rise. I likened this to Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal”. However pondering it again, why not?
    Furthermore I believe that my other thoughts, valid or not, at the very least are worthy of a moment’s consideration. These should not be construed as a total negation of your plan, specifically in its revised form. As you well know I don’t pretend to be an expert in hotel design at any level, but I remain feeling especially after reading the most recent comments, that a compromise on both sides should be sought. To this extent and with additional in depth study I believe this can be achieved.
    To this end, and of major importance, is complying with the Town’s Building Code, particularly as to how it relates to your Project. Save Searles School and reduce the hotel’s occupancy. If done well, and maybe with my or another several other suggestion for The Searles School, I truly believe that you can depend upon an occupancy rate far above your estimates, and profitable to boot.
    Very sincerely,

    Christopher

  12. Christopher Owen AIA Architect says:

    Once again rereading through all the comments above and in particular Dave Carpenter’s, I believe we’re receiving a positive response from Mahida and we should terminate our discussions given almost all involved have presented valid thoughts which presumably are recorded for future review and after the Mahida’s revised plans are seen. Let’s in the meantime spend our energy in the very serious thought regarding alternative ideas apart from affordable or luxury housing. That, as has been brought up can maybe accomplished in Housatonic.

    I am not privy to all that has been proposed for The Searles School, at least before Iredale and Mahida entered the picture so perhaps the thought expressed in my previous letter regarding a museum has already been considered and rejected for whatever good reason given.

    If not, then with amplification on the idea why could this not work? Again, the other day I walked around the entire site. Once again I suggest we must wait to see Iredale Mahida’s revisions. We may be surprised but if dissatisfied, I assume the project is dead.

    Regarding the concept of a museum, my suggestion on Nov. 23rd would be (could be) related to The Housatonic River and its Mills. Like many other, rather most other museums, they largely rely upon donations, both monetary and otherwise. By otherwise I’m referring to material donated or loaned for exhibition. Surely scores of Berkshire County residents have drawings, historic photos, and appropriately related objects of interest, especially those who in the case of the mills had relatives who worked, operated, and even owned them. The subject would certainly draw residents, school children AND tourists. Commissioning or borrowing models of mills, and how they were powered certainly of interest to adults and children alike. Even full scale artifacts as well.

    In looking around the site and taking MOMA in North Adams as an example, also Mystic Seaport Museum, The Shaker Museum in New Lebanon, Sturbridge, near Lake Champlain, Williamsburg in Virginia, and Shelbourne to the East of us. All are comprised of separate structures which means time outdoors, going from one to the other, this suggesting a well designed landscape and the obvious connection to River Walk. One such building at the Searles School complex is the gymnasium which can with little work stand alone. A piched or series of shed roofs to start. The former school itself which of course, now happily saved, could function in many and varied capacities. To avoid a maximum number of code issues, perhaps portions for administration, the ground floor for exhibition, etc. would be easier and more economical to resolve.

    Apart from the question of financing start by approaching Jane Iredale, who could become and would, if wished for be the lead and as such Searles School becomes The Iredale Museum of The Housatonic River and Its Mills. Excellent publicity for her Company. In of itself and with only the original structure saved the first phase is complete. The following is the renovation. Next the gymnasium, remodeled with a pitched roof as is the former school. Its interiors designed for housing related material. Financed by a single or more generous donors and in gratitude the building in their name, and so the Project continues until completed with its entrance being The former Searles School where, immediately seen ahead on a suitable plaque are all those of significance that have been responsible for The Museums creation, not only professionals and donors, but banks, and just mentioned Wards for their help, all to be credited building by building, room by room, the gardens, and on. Many seeing in their generosity substantial tax deductions.

    Naturally at the outset a board and trustees are selected and made up of disparate and appropriate interests: financial, museum consultant(s), site and landscape (Wards?), architect(s), etc.. The whole built over time but open early with just the first phase in operation, The Searles School!

    Christopher Owen

  13. Cathy says:

    Let me first point out that I don’t live in Great Barrington, but in an adjacent town. I do, however, spend a lot of time – and money – in town, and want very much for Great Barrington, as well as the surrounding area, to prosper – in terms of both financial stability and quality of life. Also in the interest of full transparency, I would prefer that a large hotel (i.e., anything larger than 45 rooms) not be built on the Searles site. That is my personal opinion on the matter; it is also my impression that, unless much of the character and structure of the existing building is maintained, the current bylaw prevents the construction of a large hotel.

    That said, I’m writing to express dismay at the ongoing tone of hostility in this discussion (both at the Edge and generally in town). I understand that people are upset and concerned, but I can’t understand the nastiness (though that certainly does seem to be the tenor of any disagreement in the country, I had hoped we here in our small little towns could do better). Otherwise lovely, intelligent people end up sounding like spiteful, bullying 10 year olds.

    I don’t believe the Mahidas are evil, treacherous monsters out to destroy the fabric of the town. I believe they want to run a highly successful company, and that they would like to purchase a very well positioned property to further increase their holdings. I don’t think they are willfully misleading people about projected revenues to the town, though I do think it’s possible that they are being more optimistic than others might be given identical data. That’s the way the world works.

    I am also surprised at the degree of rancor stirred up by Mr. Carpenter in this forum. Whether you agree with him or not, from what I see his tone is professional and polite; he has absolutely no obligation to engage with citizens in this forum, yet here he is. Certainly part of his incentive to do so is to attempt to bring more voting citizens to his ‘side’, but the fact that he is even bothering to try to answer questions here is commendable.

    Again, I hope a large hotel is not built on this property. I do hope that the property can be developed by someone, and that that development might provide needed residences, services or other town-oriented uses. It’s not in anyone’s best interest to have a crumbling hulk of a building empty on what could be a lovely site. It would be wonderful if someone could find a better use, with some funding that would make such use possible. But denouncing those who are attempting to further their business by exploiting a loophole that was unfortunately created for such exploitation does nothing to help. And denouncing them with such nastiness and spite does nothing to improve the town or the region. Continue to discuss the issue, continue to be passionate about it. Continue to do research, and to review the proposals as they become available. Work to write a new bylaw if that’s your thing, and work to get your fellow voters to support it. Write letters to the pertinent Boards to lay out your reasoned arguments – but if and when you do so, don’t accuse them of some sort of nefarious scheme. They work very hard, and I believe that they are trying to do what’s best and to comply with existing law. It is a very difficult position to be in, so you might want to thank them for bothering to do it.

    And remember that there are some residents who disagree with you, whatever your position is on this or other hot topics. They have a different perspective; they are not stupid or evil or unworthy of respect.

    1. Dave Carpenter says:

      Thank you for your very thoughtful and very articulate sharing of your opinion.

      Like you, I believe that civil exchanges of opinions are key to building an even better future for Great Barrington., and the surrounding towns.

      Great Barrington (and its “village” of Housatonic), like every small town in America, faces a panoply of serious issues. Searles, although obviously an important issue, is far from the only issue facing the town. There are serious school funding issues that need to be addressed, but are being sadly overshadowed by the Searles debate. There are housing issues. There are drug issues. Etc. Etc.

      What I am encouraged about is that the Searles debate, as unfortunately acerbic as some choose to make it, has brought forth some citizens who can help address some of these issues. Example, Marc Fastenau in maligning the Mahida’s Searles proposal, here, on the Record, and in the Eagle cites the need to address housing for the elderly. Imagine if Mr. Fasteau were to apply his financial acumen and invest just a fraction of the wealth he is shipping overseas in Housatonic, either at the Mills or at the School. Talk about a win-win. Vacant buildings resolved! Needed housing added!!

      Or, imagine if on a simpler scale, those who claim legal expertise on The Edge applied their expertise to bylaw construction…before citizens are asked to vote…so that the Town has bylaws that are crystal clear when voted on by the citizens.

      Like you, I believe in the power of our citizens (and elected officials). The citizens have the ability to bring about change where change is needed, and to maintain the status quo where that is needed. Not just by speaking up (which is very important), but also by coming off the sidelines and doing. Each, in their own way, using their divine talents and experiences.

      Let me close with two points. I understand that you are currently not a supporter of the planned hotel. But, I so appreciate that you remain open to learn more. We have not even made our first presentation on the totality of our plans. That presentation occurs on the the 16th before the Selectboard. I hope that with additional information you might join the many who conceptually support a hotel at the Searles location (but whom await needed details).

      Second, I admire your courage to speak up on this forum. Even opponents of the hotel who suggest a balanced, fair weighing of the issue have historically been met with attacks by other opponents. (I have faith in the wisdom of the Selectbaord to see through the intimidation routine being practiced here and elsewhere. I don’t envy the tough choices they must make regarding Searles. They deserve to make those choices with balanced input from not only citizens, but also from Town professional advisors.)

      Wishing you and your family an enjoyable, peaceful Thanksgiving.

      Dave Carpenter
      Director of Administration
      Mahida Family Hospitality Interests

  14. Ron Blumenthal says:

    Dear Cathy –

    Your letter is spot on regarding tone, but you miss the crux of the issue. Propaganda works – you, Cathy, doubt your own understanding of the law. Will it work when I decide to put up a solvent ink printing factory next to your house, because hey, ‘laws were made to be broken’, and it was nicely presented?

    There’s no “loophole that was created”. The kindest way to describe that fiction would be to say that it was an unintentional self-deluding mistake.

    This wasn’t an inconsequential misunderstanding – it was an attempt – yes, call it WELL MEANING – but it was a calculated attempt to throw doubt on a new and clearly written law. It was done politely, with presentations, public relations, lawyers and etc – yes, a nice, a LOVELY tone, a genteel tone – but the attempt was far worse than any self-righteous, indignant letter which subsequently come across our mutual transoms.

    And that is the beauty of good propaganda. It seems nice, and you don’t know when you’re being clobbered. The concept that this law could be discarded was more provocative than any unfortunately worded letter that came after [and let’s agree to ignore the plain ad hominem attacks, including those of the corporate people responding, who likewise got hot under their (ironed) collars]

    How was this almost get slipped past? For a change – it wasn’t – because people spoke up the best they could. That is what did it – imperfect speaking, but speaking up nonetheless. To not speak up, or speak up after the fact – might be nicer, might be more genteel, but it doesn’t serve the greater good. If we were silent, in the mistaken service of how to put it tactfully – we’d be colluding in our own downfall; we’d be agreeing that we have no responsibility for our town or future or children, and that tact is more important than substance.

    The important piece of all this – here’s the buried lede – the project is now being revised in accordance with the original law. If you believe it could have been navigated in a better way – please step up early the next time; and join in this one now.

    Many people who have lived here a long time or have grown up here, feel there is nothing they can do to effect things in this relatively tiny town, so they shake their heads and say, “it stinks but there’s nothing I can do about it”.

    These same people have said to me – ‘why do you even bother’ – or ‘I agree with what you say, but can you say it better? – to which I reply – show me the way – I’m doing the best I can with my limited tools. I am not a professional speaker, writer, or politician.

    And since I am not a professional speaker, writer, or politician – sugarcoating words with such elisions as “mis-spoke” – I do my best to be as accurate as I can. There is no personal animus. And I don’t question people’s character, nor do I take anything personally– yet, Cathy – I put my full name on all the imperfect, poorly worded documents I’ve put forth. Which are not primarily self serving in the interests of my own wallet, but for what I believe would be best for the town as a whole.

    If we don’t like how it’s going – then let’s step up when it counts.

    1. Dave Carpenter says:

      Ron, the very essence of propaganda that you decry is your constant refrain that what is being proposed is clearly unlawful.

      As I have repeatedly expressed, no hotel will be built at Searles by the Mahida’s without legality being resolved. I can’t imagine the Town knowingly issuing an illegal building permit. And, the Mahida’s will not be building without a building permit.

      It may be your opinion that the room cap limit exception is clear. That certainly isn’t the Town’s view in that they went and (appropriately) got an interpretation of the bylaw by Town Counsel. Note that the Town Counsel did not anywhere in his opinion state the bylaw was clear on its face, as you repeatedly claim here. In fact, Town Counsel felt the need to interpret the bylaw and to advise the Selectboard that they too will have to use judgment in applying the bylaw to the proposed project. I urge you to read the opinion. (I still await your clarification of your past statement that the Town has received two opinions. No problem if you were confused on the point, just please set the record straight here.)

      Clear was the absolute 45 room limit that the citizens originally installed. The citizens (and you?) voted to create an exception to the 45 room limit. The Mahida’s are presenting a plan that is based on that exception.

      As I have oft repeated to you, I respect that you oppose the hotel. I don’t respect when you repeatedly infer that the Mahida’s are up to doing something illegal. They are proposing a hotel that they believe has very important benefits for the Town of Great Barrington and its citizens. There is absolutely nothing illegal about proposing a hotel for the Selectboard to duly consider.

      Dave Carpenter
      Director of Administration
      Mahida Family Hospitality Interests

    2. Cathy says:

      Ron, I’m not clear at all as to what you’re saying. I don’t feel unsure about my understanding of the current bylaw. I feel confident that it was written to allow for development of properties that are derelict. I also think the use of the terminology in the bylaw was specifically intended to create a space in which the Boards in question could be given leeway to apply their own judgment. I’m not sure voters understood that gray area when the bylaw was passed (and, as I said, I don’t live in GB and therefore wasn’t one of those voters).

      I also understand quite well how propaganda works, and I’ve tangled with others who criticize calls for civility and open-mindedness as being ‘soft’ and allowing evil to win. As you might have noticed in my prior comment, I absolutely support passion, and understand that issues such as this often stir passionate response. I’m all for passionate discourse; I’m not for rageful personal attack. I’m also not for snide accusations of naivete – the type of which you accuse me. You paint me as a simpleton (I, according to you, ‘miss the crux of the issue’), and accuse me of doubting my ‘understanding of the law’. As I said, you are mistaken. And just because you make these accusations in a faux-conciliatory tone doesn’t make your accusations any less inappropriate.

      And, yes, the project is being reconsidered and redesigned – and well it should be. But you behave as if this is only because harsh words were spoken, Board members were accused of being ‘in the pocket’ of the potential developers, and a lot of animosity was stirred up. You mention the many people who have spent their lives here – and who come from generations who have and had spent their lives here – and who feel their voices aren’t heard. I agree that that’s the case, and I think it’s a tremendous problem. But I’m confused about why you bring it up. Many of those Berkshire ‘natives’ feel the tremendous burden of high taxes, and are calling for approval of the Mahidas’ plan (in one form or another). Why aren’t you supporting their voices as well?

      As to how it could have been better handled – I believe that the Mahidas would have been open and welcoming to full engagement with town Boards as well as the citizenry without having to be bullied into it. I believe that the Select Board would have demanded a new design even if citizens had not been present to bully them into it. I think it’s fantastic that so many people are now anxious to be involved. But I think it’s important to understand that there are plenty of uses of the property that could be implemented ‘by right’ per zoning regulations, and that it’s only by the good graces of Iredale Cosmetics that the potential developers are being ‘vetted’ up front. I believe it’s in the town and area’s best interests to have the property developed. The more people involved in open discussions – during which people actually listen to each other instead of just waiting for their turn to make their own argument – the better the result will be for everyone, and for the town.

      The bottom line is that it’s not somehow more gallant to come in swinging, spewing outrage. It doesn’t indicate that one is more intelligent or savvy or dedicated. I certainly understand the fear and frustration that may prompt such a response, but I don’t think that kind of response will get the best results.

      And, as I’ve said, I don’t live in Great Barrington. I’ve served on Boards in my town, and dealt with my share of being screamed at by citizens. It’s no fun. At all. And it drives good people away from town Boards. So, yes, I’m not using my full name, and I’m not getting involved in this issue in a direct way. Maybe I don’t have any business even chiming in. I do hope those who are involved can find a way to discuss the concerns, the potential solutions, and the conflicting interests in a way that doesn’t drive more people away from participation, and doesn’t prevent others entities from working to develop the many derelict properties in downtown GB and Housatonic. That would be a shame.

      1. Ron Blumenthal says:

        Cathy ________ So sorry. You’re not clear in what I’m saying because I must be unclear, so will stop with this. The internet permits a back and forth that has it’s excellent uses, but is also stilted by the latency of reply, at least to a weak writer such as myself. So I’ll just say that I completely agree with you and am very sorry to have caused you or anyone else any discomfort in my crude effort to assist in any way, and to be sure I must be mistaken about how this whole thing came to be, I regret sticking my head above ground, because my simple understanding of the written language in the bylaw, is merely a simpleton’s crude comprehension, and should be rightly discounted.

        And Dave – I surrender; guilty, guilty guilty as charged – whatever it is, I confess (but not to kicking my dog) – OK? Since we now have tangled legal opinions that as you say can go either way, let’s see which way it goes. You can assert the bylaw says X, and I can reply each time it says Y, or you can go about your business and I’ll go about mine [below ground]. Thank you for your thoughtful replies these last weeks.

      2. Cathy says:

        Ron, I certainly hope you don’t go underground. Truly. And I also hope that you and yours have a relaxing, food-rich, loving Thanksgiving, with all of the togetherness and peace possible. I think we probably are in violent agreement on this issue – and likely many more – so a brisk walk and some downtime is probably best to get us all back on track. I hope you’re not being ironic in your self-description, though I feel confident that you know that no one considers you a simpleton.

        Happy Thanksgiving, happy impending winter.

  15. GMHeller says:

    Still looking forward to seeing a plot plan that allows for sufficient parking to handle the needs of a 95-room hotel PLUS the needs of an busy conference/convention center PLUS the needs of the Riverwalk, so that no one will be forced to look for street parking in the surrounding neighborhood.
    Looking now at a Google Earth aerial view of 79 Bridge Street.
    Suggest others do the same to try to figure out where the on-site parking will be that can handle all those cars.
    If anyone imagines that 109 parking spaces will be sufficient (the number originally proposed by Iredale/Mahida), then there’s a bridge in Brooklyn I can show you that’s available for sale.

  16. Dave Carpenter says:

    Mr. Heller, you know perfectly well that the proposed hotel does NOT have a Convention Center. Never has. And, you know it never has.

    You intentional attempts to malign the project by techniques like this are shameful, but – fortunately – perfectly obvious to regular readers here.

    Your frequent attempts to mischaracterize this project for your personal benefit is very sad. And, it is why I choose to not respond to your incessant demands of information from me.

    For the benefit of those with a genuine interest in the project, you should know we are proud to have proposed the “Searles Conference Center,” to be created in the former gym, which meeting space is to be used for educational conferences by guests staying at the hotel. We believe this use not only celebrates the historical use (education) of the property, but also is a use that will generate off peak visitors which will be a plus for our downtown businesses.

    Dave Carpenter
    Director of Administration
    Mahida Family Hospitality Interests

    1. GMHeller says:

      Dave Carpenter,
      You claim, “the proposed hotel does NOT have a Convention Center. Never has.”
      You mean to say there’s a difference between a ‘convention’ center and a ‘conference’ center? Please state what that difference is.
      plus, tell that to the news media which since Day One have been reporting on Mr. Mahida’s plans to rehabilitate the former Searles gym to host conferences, conventions, and other large gatherings.
      Further, are you claiming here that the former Searles gym, once rehabilitated, will not be large enough to host conventions, conferences, and large wedding receptions (or whatever you want to call large gatherings of folks meeting to have a good time)?
      If the space at Searles is not large enough for a local convention, maybe you can suggest another commercial space in South County that would be large enough to accommodate such gatherings?
      Seems to me that Mr. Mahida’s proposed AAA Four Diamond 95-room hotel is THE PERFECT VENUE for such gatherings, and that is yet another reason Mr. Mahida is proposing such a large hotel at that central location.
      Or are you also going to claim that the proposed ‘conference’ center is not large enough to host wedding receptions?

      Regardless, this crisis to define the difference between ‘convention’ and ‘conference’ clouds the real issue.
      That real issue is LACK OF SUFFICIENT NUMBERS OF PARKING SPACES for the amount of people and cars that will be drawn to Mr. Mahida’s proposed 95-room hotel, its restaurant(s), bar, and its converted Searles gym (which to avoid further emotional trauma should perhaps be called ‘The Center For Large Gatherings of People’ (TCFLGOP).
      Mr. Carpenter, how does Mr. Mahida’s architects plan to accommodate on-site sufficient parking spaces to handle hotel guests, staff, and visitors to the TCFLGOP, plus any RVs or boats in tow such that no one will have to go looking for parking off-site on neighborhood streets?

  17. GMHeller says:

    Dave Carpenter,
    You further allege above that by making use of the term “convention center” that this reference somehow represents “intentional attempts to malign the (Mahida) project” and also represents “frequent attempts to mischaracterize this project” and that this is the reason you “choose to not respond to” my requests for information such as the posting online of the Mahida Application filed with the GB Planning Board.
    Suggest you direct your baseless accusations and self-righteous indignation to The Berkshire Edge editors.
    Back in September, in an article about The Mahida’s proposed project, The Edge makes specific reference re building a ‘convention and recreation’ center on the footprint of the Searles Gymnasium.
    The article itself is a real puff piece, but neither you nor The Mahida’s made any effort back then to correct the record if as you claim “the proposed hotel does NOT have a Convention Center. Never has.”
    No one from your organization ever challenged the use of the description ‘convention and recreation center’ nor did anyone demand a retraction or correction.
    Further, no one connected with Mahida posted a single comment after that article indicating disagreement with use of the phrase ‘convention and recreation center’.
    So why are you complaining now when an Edge reader chooses to use the same word to describe that which is being planned for the former Searles Gym?
    If this is an example of what you and the Mahida organization consider to be ‘acting in good faith’ and ‘transparency’ in re the hotel proposal, then maybe it’s time you rethink your strategy.
    SEE: ‘Permit sought for $24 million upscale hotel to replace dormant Searles School’ by Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Edge, Monday, September 21, 2015.
    Photo caption: “The Searles gymnasium on whose footprint a convention and recreation center would be built.”

    1. GMHeller says:

      SEE: ‘Permit sought for $24 million upscale hotel to replace dormant Searles School’ by Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Edge, Monday, September 21, 2015.
      https://theberkshireedge.com/permit-sought-for-24-million-upscale-hotel-to-replace-dormant-searles-school/

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