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Heather Bellow
A standing-room only crowd appeared before the Great Barrington Planning Board's site review of a proposed 95-room upscale hotel that would replace the derelict Searles School on Bridge Street.

Hotel site review attracts belligerent crowd to Great Barrington Town Hall

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By Friday, Oct 23, 2015 News 65

Great Barrington — They came to Town Hall looking for trouble, but the overflowing room of residents opposed to the proposed 95-room hotel on Bridge Street instead found themselves trapped in a three-and-a-half-hour, jargon-heavy Planning Board site-review that dug into tedious minutiae of engineering issues like grading, vehicular circulation, gutter drainage, and stormwater flow calculations.

A rendering of the proposed Berkshire Hotel that would be situated on the former Searles School property abutting the Housatonic River on Bridge Street.

A rendering of the proposed Berkshire Hotel that would be situated on the former Searles School property abutting the Housatonic River on Bridge Street.

The people had trouble containing themselves — snickering, giggling and exclaiming at various questions and answers between the board and the hotel developer’s team. Chairman Jonathan Hankin got into a few tussles to keep order, at one point threatening to kick someone out and call the police.

The Planning Board recently recommended, with a 3-2 vote, that the Selectboard, at its November 9 public hearing, issue a special permit to 79 Bridge LLC, local hotel developers Vijay and Chrystal Mahida’s fourth hotel project in South County. The AAA Four Diamond hotel, The Berkshire, if built, will go — with a similar footprint — into the site of what is now the former Searles Middle and High School, under contract with seller Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, LLC.

The $24 million project is criticized for its plan to raze Searles, recently deemed historic, and its wiggle around the 45-room limit bylaw enacted by the town in 2014. Other complaints are to do with its size, proposed architecture, siting, and the use of faux materials. Project supporters say Searles is now derelict, sitting untouched for 10 years and inviting vandalism and drug use after the school district was unable to renovate it and built its new schools near the Monument Mountain High School campus on Route 7. Mahida estimates $450,000 per year in tax revenue to the town, and others say the hotel will be a boon to downtown businesses.

Planning Board Chairman Jonathan Hankin. Photo: Heather Bellow

Planning Board Chairman Jonathan Hankin. Photo: Heather Bellow

The Planning Board’s site plan review — which in this case will continue on November 12 if the Selectboard issues the permit — is required for all projects, and involves a checklist of environmental, public safety and other engineering issues. It also serves as a brainstorming session to think out details and come up with ideas to improve a project, and often will add conditions to the special permit.

A site plan review, however, leaves no room for public comment unless it is germane to the review. A “citizen’s speak time” was on the agenda for the end of the meeting, as it customarily is. Residents packed the room anyway, standing and sitting on the floor. At the start of the meeting, several residents disdainfully questioned the board as to why the meeting had not been held in a larger space.

Hankin had to remind everyone that the Selectboard’s special permit hearing is the place to voice opinions about the project.

Mahida’s team had made 10 changes to the plan since the last Planning Board hearing, said Attorney Ed McCormick of McCormick, Murtagh and Marcus, and engineer Jim Scalise of SK Design Group, Inc. in Pittsfield went over the changes. Hankin had his own list of details that he said needed to be addressed — things like which way the doors swing for ADA compliance, the location of an ADA room, and what the false chimneys will be made of. “I think we’re entitled to know that,” he said.

Jim Scalise of SK Builders, left, and Craig Okerstrom-Lang. Photo: Heather Bellow

Jim Scalise of SK Builders, left, and Craig Okerstrom-Lang. Photo: Heather Bellow

Scalise explained, for instance, that he had shifted the entrance location to straighten out the driveway that leads to the back of the building, where the 109 parking spaces will be, but that a large oak tree on Bridge Street “will have to go as a result.” He considered moving it, but it is too close to the sewer system. He said it may be dead in 5 years.

Board member Brandee Nelson said she wanted to keep the tree and realign the entrance. “The mature trees that are in really good shape are important in Great Barrington,” she said to applause.

Scalise then pointed out, along with project landscape designer Craig Okerstrom-Lang, that the hotel is working with Housatonic River Walk and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to determine the best plantings near and along the river, which runs along the east side of the property. Mahida is making a donation to the River Walk, and also adding more rain gardens to the site. The Conservation Commission, Okerstrom-Lang said, has the final say about plantings.

Okerstrom-Lang, who also designed the Iredale landscape and lighting, explained what species he was considering, and that many are similar to what will be planted on Main Street. A planned row of Aristocrat Pears, a monoculture, worried Hankin, given the failures of the Bradford Pears on Main Street, but Okerstrom-Lang said the Aristocrats are different.

Planning Board members Brandee Nelson, left, and Suzanne Fowle.

Planning Board members Brandee Nelson, left, and Suzanne Fowle.

Nelson questioned Scalise about drainage and de-icing in the parking lot, saying she wished porous concrete would be used to add another filter and more flow control for stormwater so close to the river. Scalise said that winter sand will make it challenging to maintain, since porous cement must be cleaned, but Nelson said that as a Four Diamond hotel, “having good solid green credentials” will be a draw for that clientele.

Predictably, discussions about the faux stone made of pre-cast concrete, to be used in a retaining wall, drew snickers from the crowd. “It looks really faux,” Hankin said. Nelson wanted to see samples.

Scalise had moved on to stormwater, and a handful of the audience disappeared.

Scalise moved on to architectural changes to the old gymnasium, and those plans will be ready soon, he said. Pro bono offers by local architects to change the bulk of the hotel’s design did not bear fruit in a meeting with Mahida last week, according to Bobby Houston, who is re-developing the old Dolby Florist site across the river from the proposed hotel. He has been vocal in opposition to the project as currently designed.

And even those board members (Hankin, Nelson and Jack Musgrove) who voted to recommend the project are not thrilled with certain aspects and expressed concern with how the hotel interacts with the street and pedestrians. Hankin wants Mahida to consider a two level balcony on the Bridge Street side, and use trees to accentuate the Bridge Street entrance.

Suzie Fowle and Malcom Fick had both voted against recommending the project, and Fowle last night said she wished the hotel interacted more with the river and East Mountain beyond it.

Hotel architect Michael McKewon, Vijay Mahida and attorneys Edward McCormick and Kathleen McCormick

Hotel architect Michael McKewon, Vijay Mahida and attorneys Edward McCormick and Kathleen McCormick. Photo: Heather Bellow

“You’re expecting a Four Diamond clientele,” she said. “People come to the Berkshires…for a rural experience.” She said she thinks there’s room on the site to turn the building. “It’s an incredible site,” she added.

But Scalise explained that the 100-year floodplain, the site of the parking lot, doesn’t give him much room to change the footprint, since “building in a floodplain requires compensation…it’s frowned upon for so many other reasons.” He added that this issue was already extensively looked at.

And project architect Michael McKeown of BMA Architects said the group wanted the building “energized and interacting with Bridge Street.”

“I don’t know why you all are constrained to the footprint,” Nelson said, adding that she agreed with Fowle that the river is asset. “If you’re knocking [Searles] down and starting fresh, then…go with what feels good at that site.” She said she’d like to see a more “quirky” design. “You have an opportunity to be creative,” she added, drawing more giggles from the back of the room. Nelson later scolded people over laughter in response to her questions about the re-use of brick inside the building.

McKeown explained that one stipulation in the contract with Iredale, the seller, is that views of the river from her company’s adjacent headquarters will not be obscured.

Jim Scalise of SK Builders, left, and Mahida properties manager David Carpenter.

Jim Scalise of SK Builders, left, and Mahida properties manager David Carpenter.

David Carpenter, Director of Administration for the Mahida Family Hospitality Interests, explained that every detail has been closely vetted, given the amount of money involved, to make sure the hotel is “not bankrupt in two years.”

“Why would the Mahidas do that?” he said.

The room lost another handful when Scalise clicked on his wastewater slide.

For those who remained, one word caused alarm: “Hilton.”

Mahida explained that the Hilton corporation will approve his plans so that in future the hotel could “opt into a Hilton reservation system,” and assured the board that there would be “no branding.”

Still, by morning, the word “Hilton” had already spread down Main Street and beyond by residents fuming over the size of light poles and sharp granite curbing installed as part of the Main Street reconstruction project.

Just the mention of a chain hotel may have also prompted an outburst by Bola Granola owner Michelle Miller over the 45-room limit loophole. Hankin told her that her comments were for the Selectboard, which makes the final decision. Indignant, Miller said she had “waited here for two hours.” She said the extensive site-review was “beside the point,” akin to “lipstick on a pig.”

Board member Malcom Fick calmly explained to her that the board had a duty to tackle its eight site review points, and that was its purpose.

Architect Christopher Owens. Photo: Heather Bellow

Architect Christopher Owens. Photo: Heather Bellow

Architect Christopher Owen was, however, allowed to interrupt the proceedings because his comments were related to the site review. He echoed Fowle and Nelson, suggesting that the hotel should face the river and mountain, and that floodplain issues can be gotten around. He also said the materials chosen for the retaining wall reminded him of a “19th century prison.” He suggested using ivy on them.

By the time traffic engineer Jon Dietrich from Fuss & O’Neill, a familiar face at Great Barrington public meetings, since it was his firm that had designed the Main Street Reconstruction Project, got up to speak, most of the audience was gone. Dietrich studied six intersections at peak hours assuming full hotel occupancy, he said, and projected an increase in delays at the Bridge Street and Main intersection,

“There will be delays,” he said. “But it will work.”

“I’d prefer vehicular traffic to drug traffic and this could be an improvement,” Hankin quipped, referring to the drug users that are attracted to Searles and its environs, such as the skate park, which are frequented by teens and young people.

Traffic engineer Jon Dietrich of Fuss & O'Neill. Photo: Heather Bellow

Traffic engineer Jon Dietrich of Fuss & O’Neill. Photo: Heather Bellow

Developer Ron Blumenthal popped up and said the traffic study was flawed, partly because it had been done in May. “Summer traffic is almost triple,” he said, noting he had done his own traffic counts for his own business. “It’s a summer town.”

Dietrich disagreed, and when Blumenthal continued to interrupt him, Hankin threatened to kick him out, then offered to call the police.

Five audience members remained. Nelson questioned Scalise about winter ice control, and potential salt runoff. But he told the board that “all sand has salt in it,” and there’s no way around it. He said the hotel parking lot would be sanded and swept in the spring.

By the time “citizen’s speak” rolled around, there were no citizens’ left — only the media and the Mahida hotel team remained.


The site review can be viewed at  https://trms.ctsbtv.org/Cablecast/Public/Show.aspx?ChannelID=3&ShowID=14686        

Board member Jack Musgrove was not present.

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65 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Tom says:

    Perhaps they can use microbes to demolish the former Searles Middle and High School.

  2. MK says:

    Perhaps Ms. Fowles could explain how a hotel could interact with a river and a mountain. Or is that architecto-babble?

    1. Suzie Fowle says:

      I am not an architect, but common sense tells me that sensitivity to the characteristics of this site would do more to keep with the character of the neighborhood, which is one of the criteria for Site Plan Review. A hotel at this site, no matter the size, could be oriented toward the Housatonic River so that guests could experience the River from a porch, patio, breakfast table, room window, etc. The view of East Mountain beyond the River would also be an asset. In addition, I think that an obvious pedestrian connection from hotel to River Walk — rather than a driveway bisecting that connection — would be a better fit with the neighborhood character and improve the experience for people using the building and for those walking along River Walk.

  3. GMHeller says:

    Interesting that during this so-called ‘site review’ that no one on the Planning Board thought to inquire of Mr. Mahida or any of his engineers/architects, in the event the property is determined to be limited to the zoning by-law’s 45-room limit if plans call for the historically-designated Searles Middle School to be demolished, whether a complex requiring fewer hotel rooms would thus also enable the architects more leeway to design a structure far more beautiful and in keeping with Great Barrington’s rich architectural heritage than the faceless bland boxy design presently being proffered?

  4. DB says:

    And what happens when Hilton tells them they need a 10 story building with…a huge number of rooms? Oh no, that could never happen.

  5. Patrick Fennell says:

    Elections have consequences. This is what happens when town elected ‘leaders’ drop the ball for more than ten years. Soon this battle will take place with the Housatonic School. Remember even the BHRSD could not save Searles and three other groups have tried. The town is in the deep red with this deal already. This is the best GB is going to get. Maybe a couple pear trees in front will hide the ugly hotel?

  6. anni crofut says:

    I applaud architect Christopher Owens for sharing his expertise at the meeting. While most of us in that room were nearly seething with our opposition to the architectural plans put forward, he was able to sensitively articulate the issues at hand, namely that the bland, box-like architectural design of the proposed hotel shows a near-total absence of creativity and imagination. From its ‘faux’ siding, its fake chimneys, its largely cosmetic wrap-around porch (Bridge street has little pedestrian traffic and most guests will enter through the back-entrance), its shallow-pitched roofs (which will contribute to the hotel looking like blocks from town) to the fact that a large bulk of rooms will look not out over the river or mountain but at a large parking lot, etc… What we are looking at with this hotel is a standardized, hulking building with very little in keeping with Great Barrington’s quirky, eclectic architectural surroundings. The planning board has endorsed ingenuity, creativity, experimentation, but there is none of that to be seen here, and virtually no receptivity by Majida’s team to the suggestion that this is missing.

    Personally, my greatest concern is this: what if, down the line, Mahida decides to sell this hotel and move on. Who’s to say the Hilton will not move in to claim it. After all, it is designed to meet ‘Hilton’ reservation standards. I strongly suspect that this may be Mahida’s contingency plan. This is not to fault him – he is a business man and a hotelier – but it certainly would be terrible for Great Barrington, this town we adore for its originality and authenticity. We are being ‘commodified’ people. It is the Select Board’s responsibility to protect the character of this town. Why not look beyond the immediate economic urgency that has pushed this plan this far along and instead demand some imagination and attention to what real people want (both locals and tourists) – a true experience that is authentic to Great Barrington’s architecture, people and landscape, not this! Mahida’s team has the money for it, just not the inclination.

    1. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

      Agreed . . .in spades!

    2. Joyce Scheffey says:

      Good well thought out comments, indeed, Anni. I hope you will speak out at the Select Board meeting on November 9th, where such thoughtful and articulate comments will be of huge value.

    3. Jennifer wade says:

      Great comments, Anni.

  7. Ritch says:

    Hilton. Told ya.
    It’s not a coincidence that a day after this story broke in The Edge that these same folk ribbon-cut their 95 room Hilton Garden in Lenox. 2 for the price of one? There’s a plan review to look at….

  8. Ginny says:

    I don’t get it!
    How can town officials refuse to listen to the citizens, make “beautification” changes to Main Street & install street lighting that is obscene forgetting this was the 1st place the streetlight was installed ( tourist attraction for sure), ignore pleas for changes, & now even ignore the town by laws that limit hotel size to 45 rooms?
    VOTERS remember this make sure you go to the polls & VOTE THESE PEOPLE OFF the select board!

    1. Dee says:

      that will certainly be a consequence for this huge failure. The people are pissed and we will vote our will.

  9. Jennifer says:

    As the comments on this article will undoubtedly show, Great Barrington residents are not necessarily opposed to a Bridge St hotel, just to this particular version. When the 45-room limit was voted in, we expected that bylaw to be upheld. We are a creative community and will support creative projects that are in harmony with the existing character of the town. I was not happy when the bland big-box hotels went up on Stockbridge Road, but that area was already such a “strip” that I resigned myself to more of the same. But to allow our beloved downtown historic district to be overrun by a boring, oversized hulk of a hotel, so big it will disrupt traffic that is already horrendous during the summer–that is just too much. I hope that the Select Board we elected will represent the townspeople, not the developers, and do the right thing with this project.

  10. Susan Pettee says:

    I want to compliment Heather Bellow on her reporting job. This and her other stories are fair, comprehensive, and well-written.
    I’m unimpressed by the proposed hotel design and I hope that some people with better ideas can make sure that this big, boxy monster does not get built just because it’s more economical for the developer. I realize that there are complicated issues about drainage and traffic and parking but I do hope that there is a better way to deal with them than the proposed building, which not only looks cheesy but violates the 45-room town by-law, which is much more important for the center of town than for the already ugly commercial strip north of town.

  11. susan says:

    east street, gilmore, hillside, cottage can say goodbye to any dreams of real estate value rising when this hotel is built. they will be sacrificial cut throughs to get to the hotel or around town. the final nail in the coffin of a problem that already exists.
    i wonder how many of those associated with the building of this hotel have privately stated “if only we could get our hands on that drug dealing no good skateboarder miscreant teenagers railroad street youth project building… we could turn that into our parking lot”.
    the pathology of mr mahida’s rags to riches story does not, will not, EVER entertain the remotest thought of what we who love this beautiful town think. our opinions are nothing more than a wooden ships sentimentality to him.
    he was welcomed with giant open arms into the corporate world of divide and conquer for profit once he was able to secure his first large bank loan.
    sadly, the lobbying interests & individuals who have other ideas about the future of this town are only too willing to get a piece of that silk purse.

  12. GMHeller says:

    Another question the Great Barrington Planning Board site reviewers managed somehow to forget to inquire of this project’s many ‘experts’ — its architects, designers, traffic engineers, insider lawyers, et al. — is just how 109 parking spaces are to be sufficient to handle the needs of a proposed hotel with 95 guest rooms PLUS an attached conference/convention center?
    Space for 109 vehicles is all that is planned to accommodate guests in those 95 rooms PLUS their visitors PLUS on-duty hotel and service employees PLUS delivery trucks.
    But wait, there’s more!
    Those same measly 109 spaces are simultaneously to accommodate the needs of visitors and vendors using the hotel’s proposed conference/convention center.
    That means visitors and vendors will be vying with hotel guests and hotel staff for the same parking spaces, especially on a weekend.
    ONE wedding, not including any other events planned that day for the conference center, will completely overwhelm the available number of parking spaces. (Not sure what the average number is nowadays of guests invited to a wedding but the figure 178 keeps popping up in a Google search.)
    Even if only one-third of that number show up for a wedding reception on a quiet weeknight (let alone a weekend), where will they park?
    It’s obvious the number of parking spaces planned for this proposed hotel and conference/convention center are nowhere near the real number necessary to accommodate the daily average requirements of this proposed project.

    1. susan says:

      mahida should have purchased the log homes site. the co op should have purchased the searles site

      1. Terry Rosen says:

        I agree Susan, and think that there should be a more holistic plan for Bridge Street, considering traffic, parking, environmental issues and the quality of life for those who are residential abutters. There is also the architectural gem nearby–the Searles Castle that–if adapted for a museum for instance– could reinforce the history and cultural calibre of GB. In addition to your suggestions–of all the sites downtown to be redeveloped, the Days Inn site should be first.

    2. GS says:

      When someone attempted to ask the question about parking, she was shot down by Jonathan Hankin who stated it was not the time or place for such questions.

      1. GMHeller says:

        HOLY COW! The Chairman of the Planning Board at a site review hearing claims that re parking “it is not the time or place for such questions”?
        Where else but at a public site review hearing would it be legally appropriate for the public to raise just such questions?
        Question: Did any of the other board members present express disagreement with the chair’s position not to take questions on the matter of parking?
        Also: Was the hearing recorded? Is there video or audio of Chair Jonathan Hankins’ responses?

        Why would the chairman of the Town board assigned the specific task of site review refuse to take questions from the public on a topic highly relevant to the application before the board? Especially where present at the hearing are the attorneys, architects and traffic engineers best able provide answers to those specific areas of inquiry?
        It seems to me that for the uses being sought under Iredale/Mahida’s permit application, lack of sufficient parking poses the single greatest problem both site-wise and design-wise for this entire project.
        Yet, the Chair of the Town board assigned ‘site review’ refuses to take questions on the subject nor seek answers from ‘the experts’ present in the room.
        This whole process no longer passes the smell test.

  13. Carl Stewart says:

    As I have said previously and I think it bears repeating, the Mahidas will walk away from this project if they don’t get the 95 rooms they want. Hilton won’t let them build a 45- room, or even a 65 room, hotel. It simply does not fall within their corporate metric. The Selectboard should test this theory…approve a 45-room hotel and see what happens. As a side note, it should be a matter of interest to people who live in the Berkshires that Ed McCormick places his personal pocketbook above all other interests. Not too long ago, he thumbed his nose at the Sheffield community when he represented Dollar General and here he now is representing the forces of corporate mediocrity against what seems to be the majority of the townspeople.

    1. Jim Johnson says:

      The EVIL Dollar General strikes again… The most convenient thing to come to Sheffield since indoor plumbing.

      1. Patrick Fennell says:

        Love the Dollar General. easy to get in and out of and nice bargains. One of the few affordable stores for locals.

      2. Carl Stewart says:

        My comment had nothing to do with Dollar General and this reply labeling it as “evil” was not anything I said or even remotely suggested. I was simply commenting on Mr McCormick’s lack of a sense of the values of his community, the Berkshires. If Jim Johnson wants to edit my comments, he can do that but he should not be taken seriously in that regard

  14. Melissa says:

    What, you didn’t hear about the attached six story parking garage?

    1. GMHeller says:

      You mean the parking garage with the roof-top Olympic-sized swimming pool overlooking East Mountain and the Housatonic River?

  15. Michele Miller says:

    It was a spectacle indeed. Having made a bad call in voting to recommend the 95 room project, the board and presenters taxed the patience of all with everything from a promise to use the old brick from Searles to panel the Library a la Lord Jeff in Amherst or get “creative” with the design, the chairman even making a joke of “valet girls”. I raised my hand and was invited to speak but mention of 45 rooms was shouted down. I switched to parking and traffic issues which are laughably inadequate as planned but I had used my time. As they recently approved the 3rd story on the Holiday Inn, one wonders why the Planning Board is always eager to support the developer and never the will of the people.

    1. Terry Rosen says:

      Suivre l’argent . . .

  16. Ron Blumenthal says:

    For the record [though this is the edge]
    I’m not a developer, nor did I pop up belligerently
    Speaking out against BS is called being a good citizen (and I waited several hours before doing so)
    Meekly yielding to power while relying on the threat of police is called something else.
    It is a civic duty to speak out if the board at the front is nodding thank you as it gets spoon-fed from a hot plate of BS
    – Is “well behaved women rarely make history” for bumper stickers only? [although I’m neither a woman nor a bumper]. If you don’t speak up you get what we’re getting – mediocrity

    Here’s what not speaking up got us:
    – school buildings – our assets – abandoned due to deferred maintenance
    -a main st reconstruction which in the end turned away public participation
    – no true investment in education reform, due to focus on school construction
    -an antibusiness climate, except for minimum wage service jobs
    – businesses who want to relocate here being turned away
    – lack of important infrastructure, eg high speed internet
    – lack of real conversation about transportation solutions
    -refusal to implement a working group to bring business here [though there is an ad hoc volunteer effort to do so, which is being funded privately]
    – a 5 million dollar firehouse which cost 9 million
    – our tax monies paying Ed McCormick’s client to buy the old firehouse from us. [I wish I could get a deal like that – then I WOULD be a developer, instead of a Berkshire shuffler].
    – and only our opposition to a warped tax proposal put pressure on the school committees to rework the completely skewed school district deal. That is why GB taxes are so snarled up in the first place. No amount of “new hotel revenue” will fix the broken school deal; that must be done by working with all the towns that use Great Barrington resources, subsidized by Great Barrington taxpayers

    Re the traffic study, or to call it what it is, a piece of marketing:
    – Sheffield is not Great Barrington / so traffic counts are not equivalent
    – May is not July
    – weekdays are not weekends
    – 95 hotel rooms will bring more than an 18 car increase
    – there is no provision for employee parking, streets will be clogged and other merchants will suffer
    -East Street will become a speedway and property value will drop
    -$400,000 – 450,000 of new tax revenue without any kind of backup or supporting numbers is more marketing, not actual tax revenue
    – “Our study is empirical because it has graphs” falls somewhere upon the ‘lies, damn lies, and statistics’ continuum. Why treat Great Barrington voters like hicks? Oooh, a graph.

    The Searles building wasn’t offered on the open market; it seems as if the old deal got tangled up. If it were to be fairly put forth, even as a teardown instead of a typical Great Barrington insider’s below market rate deal shepherded by the Hon. Ed McCormick, there would be a few rational market rate offers – even beyond those that came forward within the last few days in reaction to this insider’s deal.

    If people wonder why there is so little citizen participation – here’s why – when 60 people show up, acknowledge them, welcome them, find them some chairs, and be entrepreneurial – be a leader, and nimbly adjust your meeting format. Instead, what we had was stupefying bureaucracy at it’s finest; sure, developers with their projects and paid representatives deserve attention, but what about constituents who are there for a reason, shoved to the back of the hearing.

    Take a crisis – all us so called belligerent taxpayers, but in reality, meek middle class homeowners whose collective stake in the town is far bigger than any Hilton-esque chain business coming in – and turn that crisis into something productive. Yet with typical Great Barrington style, the planning board can’t figure out how to insist on excellence, and instead throws up it’s hands, ‘there’s nothing we can do’ – well try thinking harder then, or listening to people outside your own small circle.

    Let’s not kid ourselves, “best small town in America” – we knew that was excess, right? But do we want to be the ‘best small-minded town in America’ – who can’t think a little bigger? Small minded thinking is what brought us to where we are – that knocking down a historic building is preservation. Demolition = Preservation / that’s Orwellian satire.

    This is not the best we can do. This is not even near the best. This project is a strip mall highway hotel. Are we really debating the merits of the 4 diamond Triple A rating system and whether or not the project meets those requirements? Can’t we aim higher than the AAA – the Automobile Associations of America – whose relevance peaked in 1973, and who is mainly known for automated tow-truck dispatch and discount coupons? – this is where we’re looking for guidance – AAA? In this era of sleek yet authentic design, farm to table artisanal living, and the the honest Berkshire experience that drives our tourist economy – we’re counting on the 2nd tier luxury branding of the Triple A? Come on!

    I’m someone who cares, and after waiting 3 hours, I stood up.

    I’m not a traffic engineer, nor did I go to Yale, but I can count; and I can follow the money.

    We can do better. Our planning board can do better. Come to the selectboard meeting on November 9th and state your position to your elected officials who are here not just for chain hotels, but for you. Remind them what their responsibilities are.

    1. MK says:

      Ron, you intellect is far greater that is currently available at Yale. Had you gone to Yale, you would be a Communist. The first rule of the town should be that you take your hat off indoors, especially while sitting in front of people at an official meeting. This shows respect for your peers and is called having good manners.
      It’s not a baseball game. At long last it would appear that big money has hired local lawyers to gentrify our beloved Berkshires. Lenox has the Elm Courtyard by Marriott going up half a mile from town.. Ron is right again when he calls for citizens involvement. A BS meter will be installed with a five gallon per minute limit. Pitchforks will be on sale at Tru Value. Bring torches We’ll heat up some tar at the Gypsy Joint and Bra and Girl can provide the feathers. Lawyers, Town Officials, Architects, Hoteliers, the Fajidas; scoundrels, the whole lot of them.

      1. Patrick Fennell says:

        And guess what in the next election the incumbents will all get re-elected. Just look at the last elections, same ideas, maybe different faces, but liberals are interchangeable in logic and ideas. Steve Bannon pushed for two school renovations and continues to keep the school system the same and was high vote getter in 2014.This town deserves the biggest ugliest Hotel ever built. The voters keep getting choices and go with the same ideas and high taxes and have to wait until the end of meetings to even speak. GB has gotten what they deserve. Oh you can buy gardening equipment like pitchforks at the Dollar General.

      2. SR says:

        MK – ?????

  17. susan says:

    Jane Iredale must not realize or understand the reality of life being in such close proximity to a hotel with large scale restaurant operation. Her office building will be permeated with the smell of hood exhaust nearly 24 hours a day, breakfast, lunch, dinner, bar food, banquet food, fans chugging away, greasy smells, it never stops. you cannot escape it.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      Jane is trying to recoup her losses and this is the best she can do. Thank yourselves for electing these boards and problems that come with it. Remember even she doesn’t want to tackle the problems and expenses of fixing the old high school. Perhaps you and your friend can buy the school in Housie and save it, before Trump puts a casino there.

  18. GMHeller says:

    Hey all,
    Check out the ‘draft’ minutes to this past Thursday’s GB Planning Board Meeting:

    1. Heather Bellow says:

      Here’s the link to the recording: https://trms.ctsbtv.org/Cablecast/Public/Show.aspx?ChannelID=3&ShowID=14686

      Parking was discussed, with the engineer saying 95 spaces were required (one per room). He would, however, add 109 spaces for staff overflow and dedicated Riverwalk parking.

      1. GMHeller says:

        Ms. Bellow, please clarify:
        You write: “He would, however, add 109 spaces for staff overflow and dedicated Riverwalk parking.”
        Are you saying that there are to be an additional 109 spaces, for a grand total of 204 spaces (95+109)?
        Or are you meaning to say that there are only to be an additional 14 spaces for a grand total of 109 spaces (95+14)?

  19. Heather Bellow says:

    That’s 109 total spaces. Sorry for the confusion.

    1. GMHeller says:

      Thanks, Ms. Bellow. And many more thanks for your excellent reporting on this entire subject.
      From your understanding of what transpired at Thursday eve’s hearing, was it your take that those proposed 109 parking spaces for hotel guests, staff overflow and Riverwalk were also meant to be the same spaces assigned to handle parking for the proposed conference/convention center?
      Did any board member question whether 109 spaces would actually be sufficient given the size of the complex and its owners’ ambitious plans for the conference/convention facility?

  20. GMHeller says:

    Are 79 Bridge Street’s present site plans posted online?

    Here’s GB’s Hotel By-law:
    7.10 Hotels and motels.
    General. Hotels and motels may be allowed by special permit in those districts shown in Section 3.1.4, Table of Use Regulations.
    Room limits.
    1. No hotel or motel shall contain more than 45 rental rooms.
    2. The limit in District B2A shall be 30 rental rooms.
    3. The special permit granting authority may authorize a deviation from the room limits above when hotels and motels are proposed as a component of a project that redevelops or reuses historic structures. Said structures are those listed on the State or National Register of Historic Places, a designated property in a Local Historic District, or determined in writing by the Great Barrington Historical Commission as historically, culturally, or architecturally significant to the Town.
    [Added 5-5-2014 ATM, Art. 14]
    Please note in the 7.10.2 above that nowhere in the by-law does it state or even imply that “a project that redevelops or reuses historic structures” can also be construed to mean or include demolition of said structure.

  21. mk says:

    The way to really screw these hoteliers is to put them out of business before they start. Set up a “GB b&b” web site reservation service modeled after Air BnB which the hoteliers are trying to crush. Go see Frank at NeoNet over Salisbury Bank and get a price on a pilot program of 20 rooms. We sell the GB escape lifestyle and the profits stay here. All those people on East St. with for sale signs can rent out rooms. Offer celebrity escapes; breakfast with the Chartocks. The town gets 20% off the top which pays for people to maintain the system. Develop the software and sell it to other towns. Form a corporation, go national, become a Republican. After GB b&b is working, contact the New York papers and magazines and tell them how we screwed Marriot, etc. NYC press would provide free publicity.
    Another reality is that marijuana will most likely be legalized in MA like alcohol and tobacco in 14 months. It won’t be in New York State so there will be marijuana tourism. Great Barrington needs a new direction and identity. A bunch of people pissed off about light poles is not our style. People are going to come here from NYC to get stoned. How do you plan for that?

  22. GS says:

    Now THIS is a Boutique Hotel: https://www.washingtonschoolhouse.com/
    “The design team crafted twelve suites and rooms within the original structure, creating space that is truly breathtaking.”
    Note: Just 12! Boutique Hotels do not need to have 95 rooms, especially in a tiny New England town.
    If something like this were proposed, instead of the hideous 95-room highway style faux “boutique hotel” that has been proposed, I’d be all for it!

  23. Ted B. says:

    Looking for investors for extending the Metro North via Chunnel to Great Barrington ( soon to be renamed New Upper New York ) ! Interested ?

  24. GS says:

    Word has it that there are a couple of Select Board Members who are FOR allowing the Hotel to go forward and plan to approve the special permit that will allow Searles to be razed and the proposed 95 room hideous hotel to be built. The other Select Board Members are wishy-washy about it. Please make our elected selectmen know BEFORE THE NOVEMBER 9th MEETING that you want them to represent those who voted them in, not those with the deepest pockets.

    1. Thelonious "Chip" Munk says:

      Curious, who on the select board are For the 95 room hotel to be built? I live on Pine Street and would be a neighbor.

    2. mk says:

      The hideous hotel. But since it is a boutique hotel, it would need a French name. Hideous Hotel en français would be “Hôtel Horrible”.

  25. Mr G 8811 says:

    Two things; first, I am almost incredulous that staunch, well-known, devout “conservatives’ like Mssrs. Heller and Fennel are coming out so strongly anti-business and pro- conservation/ historic preservation. Second, while I too think the design is rather imagination-less and ugly, I think the 95 room, or 45 room limit is rather arbitrary and silly, B &B’s are on life support just about everywhere; really an arcane, quaint but vestigial travel option that few people, if anyone under 60 have any interest in. I rather like the idea of a conference/ convention center that will draw people here to spend money in the shops & restaurants. May even benefit the Iredale Co., and be a reason some other company might move here.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      I think you will find Mr. Heller and I on different sides on this issue. I favor something in the old school, and would love to paint the rooms if given a chance. This building has been ignored too long and has been passed around like the plague for almost fifteen years. With ‘real’ town leadership thais would have never been a problem. Before the first student went to th new buildings this and Housatonic school should have already had a tenant. This is the town government most of the people on this blog have elected. Let true capitalism work. The B & Bs have priced themselves out of the middle-class market and many people only want to stay one night, which some motels on Stockbridge Road allow.

      1. Mr G 8811 says:

        Agreed Pat. Should have been a priority years ago. Same with Housatonic School.

      2. Patrick Fennell says:

        One thing people are forgetting, is that Iredale Cosmetics has the biggest stake in this project and they will certainly make sure the hotel meets their standards.

      3. Bobby Houston says:

        Ire dale was hopeful Mahida would take input from talented local architects. Work was done and a meeting was held.
        He did not.

      4. Patrick Fennell says:

        The Iredales have the most to lose if this project fails. They put millions of dollars into Church Street and the old Bryant School and have made a positive impact on GB. Surely Jane and Bob have the best interest in GB and they’re own company. They will certainly make sure the hotel and conference Center goes with the work they have done to improve what was once an ugly part of town. If this hotel goes down GB will have another eyesore to go with teh Log Home site, which is nothing more than a pension plan for career bureaucrats.

  26. LN says:

    I am very surprised and uncomfortable with this headline and the first sentence – use of this terminology – “belligerent” and “looking for a fight” – are not conducive with productive conversation. I think “looking for answers” is far more the point. Public concern and attendance at town meetings isn’t an act of belligerence, but one of genuine concern and a desire to be heard. I think many of us are already made to feel like a “nuisance” to the town leaders and this isn’t supportive of a fair and reasonable democratic process. I hope that local journalists are able to inform the public in a way that honestly represents the issues and not adding “journalistic sensationalism” to the already complex matters at hand.

    1. Sheldon Hoxie says:

      I saw the meeting on TV. Indeed, the crowd was at times belligerent — perhaps justifiably so, but belligerent nonetheless. You seem to be saying journalists shouldn’t use such words because they don’t further the discourse in a manner you approve of. I say if it’s an honest word, then the reporter should use it, even at the risk of being accused by the defensive of sensationlism.

      1. Ron Blumenthal says:

        I’d suggest ‘vociferous’ , rather than belligerent.

        And indeed, as I said earlier, albeit in an equally imbecilic way as this, if one sees the emperor naked, it is ones duty to call out “Naked Emperor” when ones elected representatives agree that May is July, Wednesday is Saturday, and 109 parking spots will hold 165 cars, and that this math is in concordance with the law.

  27. GMHeller says:

    Hello Bellow,
    Thank you for posting the link to the Planning Board site review video.
    It was surely an experience watching and listening to all 3 hours, 28 minutes.
    A few things stand out.
    First question: Have any of the architectural renderings, plans, and slides that were displayed to the board this past Thursday been posted online so that seasonal residents and general public may readily obtain access to the materials upon which the Planning Board is basing its decisions?
    Attempting to figure out what is represented on those slides based on an online video proves highly challenging; it’s almost impossible to see any details on the various slides.
    One matter which does catch my attention is how limited is the total amount of space assigned for parking, and how few actual spaces there are in the respective parking areas.
    Testimony at the meeting confirmed what you have stated here and in your article that just 109 spaces are presently set aside.
    I was surprised that no one at the meeting inquired (at least from what I could discern given the background noise on the video) whether 109 spaces would be sufficient to handle visitors attending events at the attached conference/convention center simultaneous with guests staying overnight in the hotel’s 95 guest rooms.
    Also, one of the designer/architects made reference to the fact that 109 spaces was the result of adding 82 plus 27, but he did not make clear just what formula he was using to come up with those respective figures 82 and 27 in the first place.
    Another thing which caught my attention was the designer/architect’s reference that a certain number of those 109 parking spaces are to be set aside specifically for ‘Valet’ parking.
    Seems to me once spaces are dedicated to Valet parking that they are no longer available to members of the general public who may not wish to have a stranger park their vehicle or pay a separate surcharge for that privilege.
    Is it therefore appropriate for those Valet-designated parking spaces to be included when calculating the total number of required parking spaces in compliance with Section 6.1.2?
    Also, there was reference made (time-stamp approximately 02:50:00) as to how the designer/architect obtained his formula for determining the number of parking spaces required. He said he consulted the by-law which states “One space for each sleeping room” and that’s how he came up with his starting figure of 95 parking spaces.
    Only problem with that is further down in the same by-law (Section 6.1.2 ‘Off-Street Parking and Loading’) there are references to additional varieties of use along with their respective space requirements
    Here are relevant excerpts from the By-Law:
    Section 6.1.2 – ‘Table of Parking Requirements’:
    Hotel, motel or overnight cabin: One parking space for each sleeping room
    Retail and/or wholesale sales and service establishment: One space for each 200 square feet of net usable floor area
    Restaurant: One space for each 3 seats
    Theaters and other places of assembly: One space for each 4 seats
    Mixed uses: The sum of the requirements for the individual uses — When other provisions specify fewer parking spaces
    for specific uses, the less restrictive shall apply.
    Now, given the wording of Section 6.1.2, and given the fact that Iredale/Mahida have announced plans to have at least one restaurant (and perhaps more, likely one including a bar); and given that the conference/convention center will also be hosting large assemblages of persons and parties for a variety of purposes and occasions, including weddings, business meetings, sales conventions, etc., many of which will require vendors, caterers, and waitstaff, does it seem likely that 109 parking spaces will ever be sufficient for all this activity especially when added to the needs of 95 rooms of overnight guests?
    Simply put, 109 spaces for all these varieties of uses do not appear to satisfy the listed minimums prescribed in Section 6.2.1.
    From what was thoroughly explained by the chair at last week’s meeting, the Planning Board has the ability to set conditions upon the Applicant.
    Would it not be highly desirable to set a condition that substantially increases the amount of space allotted for parking?
    If this is not done, the result will undoubtedly be hotel guests and visitors on busy weekends scrambling for parking or on the prowl at all hours looking for a space, including driving up and down neighboring streets on a hunt for an open spot blocks from the hotel.
    It appears inevitable that hotel parking overflow, at least with the few spaces presently allotted, will spill out into the surrounding neighborhood streets.
    Thank you again for your excellent report and for providing that video link.
    Here’s that link again for anyone who is curious and has a spare 3 hours 28 minutes:

    1. Ron Blumenthal says:

      There were several attempts to discuss that from the floor, but the speakers were cut off by the chair / threatened with ejection via police, & etc.

  28. susan says:

    Mahidas: Purchase the old fire house, tear it down, build a three story parking garage.
    Stop taking vouchers from the state & do something with the waste of space Days Inn behind CVS. Donate the money to build a new science wing at the high school. Show this town some kind of personal commitment to it’s well being and then maybe you would be received with different eyes.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      Spoken like a true communist.

      1. Carl Stewart says:

        Would you, Patrick, be willing to enlighten those of us who are unable to find the communist part of Susan’s post?

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