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Neighboring residents and members of the Zoning Board of Appeals listen to Guntlow & Associate's Charlie LaBatt, foreground, on a site visit to 562 Main St. on Thursday afternoon.

Williamstown ZBA Denies Hotel Bid for Lehovec Property

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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A rendering of the hotel proposed for the Lehovec property. The ZBA on Thursday denied the special permits for the project.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A divided Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday ruled against four applications for special permits that would have allowed the development of a 77-room, three-story hotel at 562 Main St.
 
The application to develop the so-called Lehovec property on Route 2 next to the former Agway met with fierce opposition from residents in the neighboring Colonial Village development.
 
In a packed Board of Selectmen's Meeting Room, a couple dozen of those residents applauded speakers who rose to the podium to ask the ZBA to reject the plan, and applauded again when the final 4-1 vote denying the permits was finalized.
 
They were admonished in the latter instance by ZBA member David Levine, who voted in the majority to reject the special permit applications.
 
"Mr. Patel is a sincere, honest businessman, and the fact that he didn't get his permit is nothing to applaud at all," Levine said. "What you do in your private home is your business. This is a public meeting, and I don't think it's appropriate."
 
Keith Davis, the lone vote in favor of granting the special permits, said it was inappropriate for the ZBA to cave to public pressure and ignore the fact that the applicant had met the development standards set forth in the zoning bylaw for a special permit.
"I don't see how we can tell developers that we have a zoning bylaw and we have development standards and they do everything they can to comply with them and then we turn down their application," Davis said.
 
Both Levine and Ryan Neathawk said they felt that the application was well prepared.
 
Levine, however, said he was voting no based on the "intensity of the use — the 24-hour use" associated with a hotel, implying that the impact on the neighborhood was chief on his mind.
 
At Thursday's meeting, Robert Kavanaugh of Colonial Avenue read verbatim a letter co-signed by himself and 45 Colonial Village residents, including a member of the ZBA (Leigh Short, who recused himself from the proceeding) and two former members of the Board of Selectmen, Thomas Sheldon and Jack Madden.
 
"That the petitioner requires four special permits is a strong indication that this project does not belong at this location," the letter reads in part. "Please consider how a decision to grant these permits will impact not just this peaceful neighborhood, but also the whole town."
 
Colonial Village resident Stephen Hannock told the ZBA that while he is a fan of and a customer at "chain hotels" like the one Patel hoped to develop on the property, he was against this proposal.
 
"To have all these other hotels proposed and dropped on top of our neighborhood doesn't make any sense," Hannock said, referring to a special permit granted by the ZBA for a proposed hotel at 430 Main St.
 
"I happen to think we could use more businesses — but in the right places. I'm a fan of Radisson hotels. I stay at them when I'm traveling. … In Williamstown, Massachusetts, it's not a good move. It's not in sync with the aesthetic energy we've generated that is nationally renown."
Attorney Donald Dubendorf, who represented Patel in the application, was nonplussed when it became clear from the board's comments that a majority was coalescing around the idea of rejection.
 
"There's an illogic afoot that troubles me," said Dubendorf, a local attorney with a long history of representing developments in town. "A larger facility, closer by half to Colonial Village, was permitted by this board within the last six months. This one is farther away, has had the capacity to do more to mitigate impacts and asks for less extraordinary relief than the other hotel did.
 
"The potential incongruity unnerves me. I don't think the ZBA is here to deny people the use of land in a manner consistent with the development standards."
 
After the meeting, Dubendorf declined to provide immediate comment about the decision.
 
Many of the neighboring residents' objections to the proposal centered on the idea that it would significantly aggravate an existing traffic problem at the Main Street location, where residents complained of having to wait "several minutes" to make a left-hand turn out of the Colonial Village development.
 
ZBA member Lawrence Wright mentioned the traffic issue specifically when explaining his reservations about voting to allow the proposal.
 
Dubendorf directed the board to the traffic study the applicant commissioned from national engineering firm Fuss & O'Neill, which found that even if both hotel proposals eventually were built, the 562 Main St. project would result in a less than 1.5 percent increase in traffic — an impact below the bylaw's development standard.
Orchard Lane resident Thomas Gais challenged both the competence and, by implication, the ethics of the engineers from Fuss & O'Neill.
 
"The traffic study indicates it takes, on average, 18 seconds to make a left turn from Colonial Village onto Route 2," Gais said. "I go to Albany every day to go to work. Some days, I don't even bother trying to make a left-hand turn to get gas at Cumberland Farms because it can take minutes to wait. I don't know where the '18 seconds' came from, but it seems completely nonsensical in late afternoon or in the morning.
 
"I know Fuss & O'Neill are paid by the proponents of the hotel. … I was wondering whether they ever do come up with an analysis that says there's an enormous impact on the town."

Tags: motels, hotels,   ZBA,   

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