Commentary: Stockbridge, DeSisto developers must compromise

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By Friday, Mar 10 Viewpoints  5 Comments
An aerial photograph of the former Bonnie Briar estate in Stockbridge, home of the DeSisto School, now being eyed as the site of a major residential development that would include a hotel, condominiums and single-family houses.

Patrick Sheehan and partner Tony Guthrie have proposed a development at the DeSisto property on Route 183 in Stockbridge, a combination of hotel, condominiums and single-family houses on the 320-acre former estate that would swell the population of Stockbridge.

While there is agreement in town that the size of the project should be reduced, there is disagreement about the way to accomplish that. Some believe the town can halt the project completely. Others believe if Stockbridge eliminates the Cottage Era Bylaw and the Cottage is torn down, there will be no hotel; the land will be developed according to R2 and R4 restrictions (residential on 2 or 4 acres).

Those who believe that a municipality can absolutely halt development are incorrect. If the municipality oversteps, the developer seeks redress in land court and, at great expense, the court decides.

Those who wish to eliminate the Cottage Era Bylaw may not realize the bylaw limits density. The Cottage Era Bylaw protects the house and also restricts development of the land between the house and the road, on either side of the house, and beneath the house. Those acres cannot be built on. If you remove that bylaw, then they can.

Development is a negotiation. The developer wants to build more; the town wants them to build less. Each has tools to accomplish its objective.

Stockbridge should use all the tools it has available to negotiate. At its disposal, Stockbridge has wetlands protection, ridgeline conservation, Scenic Mountain and the Cottage Era bylaws.

Developers cannot build on the two wetlands, on the ridgeline, on the mountain, and cannot build on the land around the house. All those regulations and bylaws increase the number of acres upon which Stockbridge can legally restrict building and control density.

Stockbridge should not throw out any tools it now has but use them wisely to achieve the best outcome for the town.

On the other hand, while the developers desire more density than the town wants they propose many things that seem attractive. They propose an agrihood, that is, a community built around a farm. They propose only building behind the extant house which preserves the historic view from the road. They propose public access to the facilities they erect. They propose restoration and reuse of a Berkshire Cottage.

Both sides should be prepared to negotiate all aspects of the development. The increased population may require an enhanced sewer system, water system, improvement to roads and bridges, and additional firemen, policemen and other municipal employees. The developers should be prepared to contribute to the increased costs of these services commensurate with the density proposed. The contribution would be in addition to taxes.

Hysteria and emotional arguments rarely prevail. In the best case, the town and developer reach a quiet compromise. What does the developer desire; what can the municipality legally restrict, and where is the middle ground?

Stockbridge should support and insist upon the developer building all the positive aspects of its proposal while pressing for the least density the developer will accept in an atmosphere of mutual respect and acknowledgment of the needs of both parties. Not long after the DeSisto School closed, another school wished to purchase the property. They withdrew their offer when the town flatly refused to assist in amelioration of environmental problems. Neither town nor developer benefit by being obstinate or unreasonable.

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5 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Ritch says:

    Where is my “like” button?

  2. Ellen Lahr says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful commentary.

  3. mary says:

    Let’s just let nature take back the property; better than more waste producing humans gobbling up the resources and destroying the environment.

  4. Scott says:

    Great, thoughtful response! That is the type of factual presentation and rational approach to compromise that is always needed – in the Berkshires and in Washington!

  5. Brian says:

    There goes the neighborhood 🙂

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