WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – The developer of a proposed timeshare development in one of the most scenic spots in Massachusetts signaled displeasure on Tuesday with moves to require that he commit to permanent open space in exchange for a zoning change to permit his country-inn hotel idea.
“Frankly we’re not enthusiastic about the idea of any conservation restriction,” said attorney Stan Parese, lawyer for developer Michael Deep. He cited a development in Lenox, which was given authority to build 164 condominiums. Parese said there is no way Deep would agree to conserve the entire golf course. He said that was, "not economic."
(ALSO SEE iBerkshire story on meeting, which includes square-foot data for other hotels.)
Parese’s remarks, as Deep stood alongside, came immediately after a meeting of the Williamstown Planning Board at which the zoning change was discussed. (Read the text of Parese’s recorded remarks at the bottom of this post).
Deep’s Waubeeka Land LLC bought for $1.2 million the 207-acre Waubeeka Golf course in 2014. The 18-hole course and restaurant, both open to the public, are losing money and will be closed, Deep has said, unless he receives favorable rezoning to develop a hotel on the property. (See earlier posts for background)
When he reached an impasse with the Planning Board in January, Deep’s supporters obtained signatures of 20 voters to put a citizen-petition warrant article on the May 17 Town Meeting warrant with a zoning change permitting a time-share hotel on up to 40 acres of the golf course. On Monday, Town Manager Jason Hoch proposed a significant amendment to the citizens’ article. (READ TEXT)
Williamstown voters will decide at Town Meeting whether to consider or table to zoning change.
At Tuesday’s meeting, board Chair Amy C. Jeschawitz said there would be no public-comment period so that board members could talk in public among themselves. After discussing the matter, the board scheduled a public hearing on the zoning change for Thurs., April 28, at 7 p.m.
The board voted 3-2 last month against recommending recommend voters approve the zoning change in the form Deep’s supporters put on the Town Meeting warrant. In Tuesday’s discussion, it appeared the split is continuing. The two-vote minority – Jeschawitz and member D. Chris Winters – argued that Deep should not be required to surrender rights for residential development in exchange for getting the hotel project authorized.
The other three board members – Sarah Gardner, Ann K. McCallum and Elizabeth McGowan, expressed the view that two-thirds of the town will be unlikely to approve a hotel at Waubeeka without at least some permanent conservation easement in trade.
“We want to keep our applicant happy with the permission for an inn of a certain size, we want to keep the long term viability of the golf course for the golf-course people and we also want to protect the scenic and environmental,” said McGowan at the end of the discussion. “And we have to keep this in mind because this is the only way this is going to pass at town meeting.”
Here is a transcription of Parese’s recorded remarks at Town Hall following Tuesday’s Planning Board discussion of the Waubeeka zoning-change proposal.
“Frankly we’re not enthusiastic about the idea of any conservation restriction. The basic tradeoff which is being ignored over and over and you can, everybody has become an expert in town so everybody can do there own research. When there are permanent conservation restrictions there are sales of residential units. That’s been negotiated out of this. Compare this, pull out the Cranwell [Eds: a Lenox golf-course development] restriction and read it. It’s 164 condominiums for 66 percent open space. We’re talking about 95 – 96 percent permanent restriction with no residential sales at all. We do not exist in an economic vacuum in Williamstown. This dialogue needs to snap out of it because it’s not going to continue.”
Here are excerpts of some remarks by Planning Board members at Tuesday’s meeting:
“This is what we are taking, potentially . . . a business that serves the public, employs people in town, pays taxes. This is what we are teaching potentially by having such a transaction as your suggest.”
“I just want to clarify that we’re not taking away any rights. They’re asking for new rights to do a commercial development and in exchange this bylaw that the town manager wrote asks for an exchange so there is a balance of development and conservation on the property. It’s a exchange that’s come up because the bylaw says, the bylaw has always said that there is striving to find a balance between conservation and development on the property. That’s always been in there.”
“So an exchange, a negotiation. A win win. Are we moving toward achieving that? It sounds like these arbitrary numbers we are throwing around, and we haven’t heard from the applicant so I have no idea. But it sounds like we are not moving toward a (balance). We are creating a demand that will not be a negotiation as much as a demand.”
“At this very moment as it stands it is [zoned] RR2. By a special permit someone could come in and put a nursing home on that property at this moment, without a conservation restriction, mind you, without opting to conserve anything they could use all of that land if it was approved.”
“[But] the owner has said he wants to keep the golf course there and open so it doesn’t feel overly restrictive to me to say, to put it, to preserve the golf course because the applicant has always said the whole goal of this project is to keep the golf course open and we all want to keep the golf course open . . . the [town manager’s proposed] bylaw seems to codify what they have been saying the want.”
“I think the view of forcing them to put it in conservation to get what the need to do the project as opposed to giving them an adequate amount to do the project with an option of getting more by putting land in conservation. Those are two different things. And I think that is where we are on the board right now between our views. We have an option vs., I don’t want to say coerced, I want to say requiring, a requirement.”
“So well said. Point well taken. What we’re trying to do is create an amendment that can be made on the floor that will pass by a two-thirds vote at town meeting and we’ve heard from various, we’ve heard from the applicant in public hearing and heard from people in the neighborhood who want to preserve the golf course. So basically we want to support the development of an inn that provides for the long-term viability of the golf course because that is what the citizens seem to want and need.
“But there is another group that wants to protect our scenic and environmental area as well and continue to preserve that legacy and it seems that to make everybody happy there has to be some sort of protection put in at some point in this bylaw. It doesn’t seem like we’re there yet or are entirely in agreement at this point. We don’t have the number of square feet that we think a country inn and all the attendant necessary rooms, banquet halls and the rest of the support buildings for the golf course itself, sheds for keeping golf carts etc. Maybe we do have to expand this 20,000square-foot number.
“And so we want to keep our applicant happy with the permission for an inn of a certain size, we want to keep the long-term viability of the golf course for the golf-course people and we also want to protect the scenic and environmental. So we have three things that we are working in here, in mind here. And we have to keep this in mind because this is the only way this is going to pass at town meeting. So we can sit here and quibble about what we should put, whether it should be this size in conservation right now or that size but I think we just have to keep the big picture of those important three aspects of this project in mind as we go forward at this point.”