Foster Goodrich (hat and light shirt) and Keenan Chenail (in a suit coat) answered more questions on traffic and noise studies they had done.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board on Monday approved a controversial "glamping campground" on Notch Road the drew standing-room only crowd that was largely in opposition.
It took three public hearing sessions and a site visit before the board definitively voted 7-1, without discussion, to approve the complex of 48 camping sites, event venue and one-bedroom bed and breakfast. Planner Lawrence Taft was the lone no vote.
The concerns expressed by residents of the area below Mount Greylock were the same voiced in the past: traffic and noise.
"In starkest terms the site currently is a single family-dwelling located in a rural residential area, accessed only by narrow roads, mostly paved, by passing 293 homes, on Luce Road, Pattison Road, Reservoir Road and Notch Road. Currently, the traffic on these roads is mostly moderate to light," said Bruce Grinnell, who lives on Pattison Road. "Most of the residents are here because of what the area offers: a quiet, traffic-free rural setting with the option to walk, to bike, to hike, to roller ski with minimal concern for traffic.
"It is a way of life, a good life, one that is worth preserving."
A group including Foster Goodrich and Keenan Chenail, both North Berkshire natives, are planning to develop some 120 acres at 976 Notch Road in the rural residential zone into an outdoor recreation resort. They had planned for tenting, situated Airstreams, tiny houses and tree houses but in response to the neighborhood pushback have scaled back to 48 luxury camping sites on 18-by-30-foot raised decks and further setbacks on the property.
They also have centralized the events space — currently a working structure for a landscape company — with a small gift shop/outfitters/necessities store, bike shop for rentals, bathrooms and showers toward the front of the property, made plans to install a water tank to reduce the water-use impact on neighbors, and will replace campfires with propane fires to prevent smoke from "rolling down" onto neighboring properties. The master bedroom in the two-bedroom home would be rented and the facility used to serve breakfast and dinner to campers.
The scenic location overlooking the valley would also be rented during the summer season for weddings or similar events and have parking for more than 200 to accommodate those.
In opening the third hearing, Chairman Michael Leary asked that speakers not repeat themselves and to be respectful. Some comments had grown heated during the last two hearings.
In particular this time, neighbors took aim at a noise study and a traffic study that were done by the group, debating the studies' merits and accuracy. Others asked about alcohol licensing and if there could be a bar there; Leary said it was not in the planners purview and pointed them to the Licensing Commission
Jake Laughner of Notch Road said a sound study presented by the group was "inaccurate and highly misleading."
"It used seasonally high background noise for Notch Brook near Reservoir Road to mask resort sounds. Using this specific location and condition, it concluded that noise will pose no problem at all boundaries and at all times," he said, and brought along physics professor Bill Wooters of Williams College to back him up. Wooters said his reading from the data brought him to the opposite conclusion of the study.
"There were four monitors set up on that process," said Goodrich, adding there was a monitor closer to the property. "You happen to be choosing the one monitor in your discussion for this meeting tonight."
Several people brought up issues with speeding, feeling more traffic will cause accidents and referring to incidents that had happened 15 to 25 years ago. The winding roads were narrow, they said, and dangerous for sharing with bicyclists and pedestrians.
A traffic study, the summary of which was provided to the Planning Board, found the three roads in question could handle the amount of traffic expected, Chenail said.
"They found by MassDOT standards, that Reservoir Road specifically is gauged to be able to handle approximately 1,000 cars per day," said Chenail, which got the audience laughing and forced Leary to remind them to be respectful.
He said the peak traffic would be about 77 vehicles an hour and those hours would be Friday evenings from 4 to 7 and Sunday mornings from 7 to 10. Average traffic is currently about 16 to 20 cars an hour and a count found 140 cars a day.
The planners asked no more questions and set no extra conditions.
Goodrich said "peak" meant when all assets on the site were full and that would be between four and 10 times a year.
"So it's an absolute full capacity, which is generally a highly unlikely scenario because a lot of the folks that will be having weddings will also be booking the locations," he said. "So we'll be minimizing their traffic by capturing a lot of those folks."
Goodrich said they had hired engineers to do their studies and they had gone out of their way to work with neighbors, including spending time with Grinnell looking over the property. They had also been working with Grinnell to try to get access to property owned by Herb Allen Jr. to allow bicyclists to cross it to get to Greylock Works — and keep them off the road. It would be the first phase in approaching other private property owners.
"I respect your opinion, I do. It's an individual personal opinion," Goodrich said. "But I want to be clear that we've spent a lot of time here and so to use that information in a way that implies that we were not trying to be considerate, conscientious neighbors, I just feel it's important that the group hear that."
Goodrich added that site would be a high-priced, luxury venue for people who wanted to spend time recreating in the outdoors, not having keggers. He would be living next to the venue and policies would be in place discourage noise and excessive drinking.
"I have children, I don't want people driving drunk or fast down the road by my house or your house," he said.
He said the group had also met with public safety officials and emergency responders who had no concerns about emergency access, traffic or propane deliveries. The Fire Department, in fact, had queried about using the pond as a water reserve and staging wilderness response courses at the site.
Goodrich pointed out that parts of Reservoir Road and Notch Road are designated scenic byways by the state and appear on maps as access roads to Mount Greylock. The state's tallest summit averages about 200,000 visitors a year.
Grinnell, however, had urged the board to reject the project based elements being a detriment to the area and cast doubt on the veracity of Goodrich's statements about his personal conversations with public safety officials.
"They can tell you anything they want to tell you to try to get the project through," he said. "But unless there's somebody submitting something from an independent authority, not aligned with this petition, I think the testimony should be eliminated."
Building Inspector William Meranti, who also lives on Notch Road, affirmed Goodrich's information.
"All I can tell you is that I have spoken to those people and the information by Mr. Goodrich is accurate," he said, "And whether you believe them or not, I can't speak to that."
He continued that he was not opposed to the project and noted that speeding and car accidents can occur on Main Street.
"The applicant, in my opinion, and it's my opinion, has gone above and beyond most applicants that have come before the board to put the minds at ease of their neighbors," Meranti said. "I've been standing here quietly saying nothing because I understand. You don't want to hear from me. I work for the city, but I'm also a neighbor. And I'm a tireless supporter on my own personal level of this project. Because I think that it's good for the city and I think that it's been well thought out. And I would be affected if it was negative. And I don't feel that I will."
Also rising in support of the project was City Councilor Joshua Moran, who said recreation will help grow the community as Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art did with art 20 years ago.
"The northwest corner of the state and, more specifically North Adams, is primed for outdoor recreation to become a main economic driver possibly on par with art and culture," he said. "Mount Greylock State Reservation is at our doorstep and we as a community must work together with folks like Keenan and Foster to make sure that we embrace this economic wave and not let it pass us by."
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