Developer Benjamin Svenson explains one of the planned pedestrian accesses to the Tourists property along the Hoosic River. Svenson along with chef Cortney Burns, left, and project manager Eric Kerns and attorney F. Sydney Smithers, both at right, appeared at a joint hearing on rezoning the complex.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The ever-expanding vision of Tourists as a "trails, nature and art" destination was helped along on Monday with a recommendation from the Planning Board to rezone the entire complex as a commercial district.
The zoning petition now goes to the City Council for approval.
The petition, submitted to the council last month by the owners of the motel development and adjacent properties, would take more than a half-dozen parcels purchased over the last several years and a section owned by the state's Division of Fisheries and Wildlife now in four different zones and consolidate them under one designation, CC-1.
"We recognize that the city is about to embark upon an ambitious review and reconsideration of its entire land use planning and zoning," F. Sydney Smithers, an attorney with Cain Hibbard & Myers representing the developers, told a joint public hearing of the City Council and Planning Board. "In the meantime, however, the Tourists hotel has moved forward quickly since its inception and needs to ensure itself of certainty, consistency and predictability. ...
"Owning land in four different zone districts and having a coherent view of the overall project, they wish to pursue and present requires that we rezone the land into a single zone and we think that CC1 is the zone best suited because we can expand an existing CC1 without putting a new zone on top of it."
The properties are currently in residential, industrial and commercial zones (R-2, I-1, I-2 and CC-I) and extend from Protection Avenue to Ashton Avenue, with some of the properties having frontage on Massachusetts Avenue. MassWildlife did not object to any rezoning since its land is covered by state law, not local regulations, Smithers said. The zoning change would not include the property along Mass Avenue owned by McLain Electric; other properties along Massachusetts Avenue are residential.
The city's zoning map was adopted in1956. "It doesn't reflect the present activities and land uses in many zoned districts of the city and particularly that is true of the corridor between State Road and Massachusetts Avenue in the Blackinton section of the city," Smithers said.
The Beyond Place LLC purchased the Redwood Motel on State Road in 2015 with the intention of rebuilding the deteriorating motor court into a boutique motel along what is being called the "Cultural Corridor" between North Adams and Williamstown. That modest proposal has grown by leaps and bounds over the past three years to comprise some 18 properties on both sides of the Hoosic River — including the Blackinton Mill and former wastewater treatment plant property — with an expanded motor court, suspension bridge, trails, and a restaurant.
Eric Kerns, project manager, who attended with Beyond Place principal Benjamin Svenson and chef Cortney Burns, said the motel is set to open within a few weeks and that efforts are being made to open up the other parcels, first through the construction of a suspension bridge over the river, and in the future with the construction of trails and possible railroad underpasses to allow pedestrian circulation throughout the complex.
"Should we have the opportunity to create a larger resort, that's our ultimate goal," he said. "Incorporating all these other components of the properties we've assembled."
With the motel to open soon, the developers' next project is to transform the former Our Lady of Incarnation Church at 1288 Massachusetts Ave. into a farm-to-table restaurant under Burns. A restaurant proposal had been approved last year for State Road, but that had been abandoned, Kerns said, "for a number of environmental reasons and planned management of how that would work, we decided it would be more feasible to put the restaurant into an existing building."
The church building was first used as a chapter of the Father Mathew Total Abstinence Society but more recently has hosted a number of commercial activities. The undeveloped land behind the structure is eyed for a small farm to support the restaurant.
"Simply because of access, there's not a whole lot of major development that could be entertained on this central, what we call the island, section," Kern said. The city's past requests for proposals for the former treatment plant property attracted ideas for storage units or an industrial park but accessing the land has been problematic. "Because we're creating mostly pedestrian access, with a single vehicular access for emergency only ... we think there's an opportunity to use that lack of access as a positive."
The idea is to construct a pavilion for events or concerts, a spa village, a yurt "glamping" village, trails (including the connection to the Appalachian Trail), art installations (one of which is already installed) and, should the opportunity arise, creating mixed-use including possible lodging in the Blackinton Mill.
Kerns said all this is line with the history of Blackinton that was once a thriving village with its own commercial enterprises and a post office.
"The more we can have a cohesive environment that doesn't cross zone boundaries, and that is more reflective of the zones that exist out there now, which the current zoning plan doesn't, will be incredibly helpful to continuing our work," he said.
The joint public hearing was attended by the full Planning Board and a quorum of the City Council with Councilors Benjamin Lamb, Jason LaForest, Wayne Wilkinson, Paul Hopkins and Joshua Morann.
Planners questioned leaving out Mclain (which did not want to participate), the former church property having R2 zones on each side and how the complex would be an economic benefit to the city. Smithers said he did not think the zoning change could be considered "spot zoning" because of the size of the parcels involved and that the benefit would come from taxes. Kerns estimated that if the motel alone hit its marks the city could see $140,000 to $150,000 a year just in rooms taxes.
Planning Board Chairman Michael Leary had questioned the possibility of spot zoning and later during the regular Planning Board meeting cast the only vote against the recommendation; Planner Brian Miksic abstained from voting and did not participate in any questioning.
the parcels in questions are: 915 State Road, 861 State Road, Rear Massachusetts Avenue (former sewer plant), 1470 Massachusetts Ave., 1428 Massachusetts Ave., 1288 Massachusetts Ave., off Massachusetts Avenue, Map 96/Lot 1&1A, Ashton Avenue Map 90/Lot 15, off Ashton Avenue Map 95 Lot44.
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