WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- The town could lose a 32,500-square-foot commercial office building, and gain a 95-room chain hotel, if a proposal before the Zoning Board of Appeals is approved in mid-January.
A motel owner worried about competition -- and neighbors worried about peeping toms, noise and flooding -- brought their concerns before the Williamstown Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday as it began considering whether to approve a three-story, 95-room, 53,000-square-foot chain hotel on State Road (Route 2).
“Those hotel rooms are going to be looking into my home,” said abutting neighbor Cathy Johnson.
Experts hired by Navin Shah, of Lenox, who owns four chain hotels in southern Berkshire County and Sturbridge, Mass., presented his $12-million proposal in a two-hour hearing before the board, which set 2 p.m. on Dec. 28 to visit the site, behind the Cumberland Farms where a Grand Union supermarket was once located.
Shah needs a series of special permits for arrangements that would not conform to the town’s zoning bylaw. However, a hotel is a permitted use in the business district. Neighbors greatest concern seemed to be that Zoning Board members felt they were obliged to continue non-conforming aspects of the current 32,500-square-foot office building, even though that building will be razed and the use changed.
Clapping erupted at one point in the hearing, when Kjell Truedsson, owner of the Maple Terrace Hotel, also on State Road, expressed concern for his livelihood should a 95-room competitor open about 1,000 feet down the road. He said Williamstown now has 406 hotel rooms, nine B&Bs and 100 AirBnBs.
“The marketing of that hotel can only be by taking tourists, school visitors from the smaller operators and I thought that the community we have served for a long time would protect us to some extent from implementing chain hotels in the Village Beautiful,” said Truesdsson, who has owned the Maple Terrace for 20 years. “And I wonder if this forum can address this and I would appreciate hearing something of that.”
Architect Ann K. McCallum said the building would have a brick façade, intended to look like a factory, rather than a typical chain hotel. She said the idea was to harken to Williamstown’s heritage as a town with brick factories and academic buildings. McCallum also described plans for a short hiking and jogging trail in the residentially-zoned rear portion of the property, and removal of some trees to improve mountain views for hotel patrons.
To clear the hotel development at its Jan. 19 meeting, the ZBA will have to issue special permits for a hotel which exceeds a floor-area threshold of 20,000 square feet, for alteration of preexisting non-conforming impervious surface coverage, for location of a retention basis in the residential zone, and for some nonconforming parking. Neighbors also asked that the project be required to complete an environmental-impact assessment.