PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Licensing Board and the Fire Department are of the same mind when it comes to Proprietor's Lodge in that no expansion of service shall happen until the parking issues are resolved.
The Community Development Board had previously granted the restaurant and event venue at the former Itam Lodge a special permit to add outdoor seating, ceremony space, and a deck. But, neighbors in the area have fought the expansion saying the existing operations are already causing traffic and safety hazards.
Proprietor's included a parking management plan that called for shuttling guests in from property that owner Eric Taylor purchased in Lanesborough for a parking lot, adding a couple of additional spaces, dedicating some areas for carpooling and having a staff member on site directing traffic.
The neighbors say that isn't happening and presented photos of illegally parked cars and a shuttle bus going from a city-owned lot on Pontoosuc Lake -- the parking lot in Lanesborough hasn't yet been built. The Community Development Board called on city inspectors and other boards to halt any further permitting until the venue demonstrated that it is complying with the plan.
On Monday, the Licensing Board followed suit for the most part when it denied licenses for outside entertainment and outdoor alcohol service.
"It seems clear to me that he, at this point, has not been able to comply with the restrictions in the parking plan that was instituted as part of Community Development," said board member Thomas Campoli.
The board did, however, approve entertainment indoors on the lower level -- a new addition to the entertainment currently allowed on the second floor -- once the Fire Department signs off on it.
Fire Inspector Randy Stein has two issues: the parking on the sides of the narrow roads in the dense neighborhood could potentially block emergency vehicles and the downstairs needs to be equipped with a shunt that will cut power to any amplification equipment should the fire alarm go off. Attorney Dennis Egan said the shunt has been installed and will be inspected on Tuesday.
With the shunt issue seemingly taken care, the Licensing Board voted 3-1 to allow entertainment on that floor pending Fire Department approval. Stein, however, said that isn't going to happen until the parking situation is resolved.
"The Fire Department will not sign off on the application," Stein simply stated.
The Licensing Board and the Fire Department's stances follow the direction issued by the Community Development Board and Office of Community Development, which sent a letter to inspectors and boards involved asking for such action.
The Community Development Board is waiting to hear from Proprietor's Lodge on the issue on June 4 before determining next steps, and potentially how long the parking plan has to be in place before the board will feel comfortable allowing additional services.
"It is our intent to investigate this further, to give the Proprietor's Lodge management an opportunity to respond to this," said Chairwoman Sheila Irvin in May when the parking issues were brought to that board.
Proprietor's hadn't asked for an increase in capacity with the new spaces. Egan previously said the new spaces are allowing for different options for weddings or other functions.
He did ask for the entertainment on the lower floor to be restricted to three musicians and until 10 p.m. during the week and Sunday and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. He asked for entertainment on the lawn all week from noon until 8 p.m. but at no more than three hours at a time. He asked for the porch, patio, and banquet areas to have entertainment from noon to 8 p.m. The current entertainment on the second floor would remain.
"That entertainment will most often be associated with a wedding," Egan said.
The alcohol service would be similar. He asked to serve on the lawn until 8 p.m., with a three-hour maximum, and outside on the porches and patio until 10 p.m. with a five-hour restriction. He hoped for the same times for the restaurant porch but with no maximum limit.
However, despite it still being the same capacity, the city and the neighbors still see it as an expansion of offerings that could lead to more issues. The neighbors have consistently argued to various boards against Proprietor's every step of the way.
The neighbors said the Itam only infrequently had large events so they had learned to live with it. But since buying the property, Taylor has turned it into a popular destination wedding venue, a place for corporate gatherings, and an active restaurant. The number of large events being held there has increased in frequency.
Not only have the neighbors had trouble with vehicles being parked on the road sides, and on their lawns, of the narrow streets in the area, but said the noise disrupts the entire neighborhood, that there is unruly behavior in the parking lot, and there is speeding on the roads.
"I did see some illegal parking," said Licensing Board Member Richard Stockwell, who said he recently attended a large event there.
The halting of the permits, however, came without giving the company due process, according to Egan. City officials and the Community Development Board put out the request to halt further permitting without giving the company a chance to respond.
"I have serious reservations about whether the board has a right to tell staff not to issue sign-offs," Egan said.
Nonetheless, Egan said he is prepared to answer to the allegations of non-compliance with the parking plan to the Community Development Board in June.
It is the only commercial parcel in that densely settled neighborhood.
A number of neighbors voiced opposition to Proprietor with the same theme: nothing new should happen there until the current issues are resolved.
"There is no regard for the character, integrity, and safety of the neighborhood," Rivers-Murphy said.
William O'Leary, secretary of Health and Human Services under two governors, however, said Proprietor's is the kind of economic development the city should be embracing. He said the destination weddings such at the lodge bring hundreds of people to the Berkshires for a weekend, people who spend their money here and often end up returning for future vacations.
He added that Proprietor's has a smaller capacity than the Itam had and that new space doesn't add any more to the 339-capacity figure currently allowed. He said the nature of the business for venues like this is to have a variety of break-out spaces for different events.
"I think the licensing still calls for the same number of persons," he said, also adding that the Itam was non-profit and not paying property taxes to the city.
Licensing Board member Dina Guiel said she couldn't vote in favor of supporting the additional spaces if the Community Development Board, neighbors, and Fire Department all see a potential safety concern. She voted against any expanded permits, being the sole vote against allowing entertainment downstairs even if the alarm issue is addressed.
Member Richard Stockwell there hasn't been enough compromise on either side. He hoped to start small by allowing alcohol to be served outside but it failed with a 2-2 vote.
"Since we've been doing these meetings, there has been no compromise, I feel, between the lodge and the neighborhood," Stockwell said.
Proprietor's Lodge is looking to add two new spaces to its existing building — a ceremony room and a breakout space. But neighbors are saying the business at the former Itam Lodge is growing entirely too fast and is causing problems in the tight residential area.
The Community Development Board is telling city staff not to sign off on anything more regarding Proprietor's Lodge's expansion as they looking into allegations that the company is not complying with its parking plan.
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