Deal with nearby hotel paves way for affordable housing project in Lenox | Berkshires Center

LENOX – It’s taken a few swings, misfires and unforced errors over the years – but the city has finally hit a home run for affordable housing.

The Zoning Appeal Board on Wednesday night gave unanimous approval to a plan for a 13-building, 65-unit mixed-income apartment complex at Brushwood Farm near Pittsfield Road (Route 7/20).

An agreement between the developer, Pennrose LLC, and the Toole Lodging Group, owner of the adjacent Courtyard by Marriott hotel, paved the way for the agreement to resolve their concerns about certain aspects of the development.

The project, first unveiled informally in June, is expected to cost at least $30 million, not including the purchase price, which remains undisclosed pending completion of the real estate transaction in about a year, when construction will begin. Pennrose held a call and put option with the Hashim family, owners of the nearly 15-acre parcel at 36 Pittsfield Road.

An illustration provided by the developers shows the revised layout of the Brushwood Farm Housing apartment project at 36 Pittsfield Road in Lenox.

“This is an extremely important project for the town of Lenox,” said ZBA member Albert Harper. “We’ve suffered a lot in the past from not having affordable housing, and it’s prevented our kids from going to college, coming back, and being part of the community they grew up in.”

Along the same lines, ZBA President Robert Fuster Jr. pointed out that “for people who want to work here, raising their children here, sending them to school, it’s a lot more difficult. I think it’s a great project. I hope this will attract many people with children, for our schools and for the benefit of our community. The more children we have in the city, the more life and activity there is in the city.

A hotel owner in Lenox worries about plans to build an affordable housing complex nearby.  Now the two are looking for common ground

The affordable and labor-intensive apartments, Brushwood Farm Housing, would be rented to qualified, income-eligible individuals and families, based on federal and state guidelines indexed to various regional median income thresholds for the county of Berkshire.

Rental units include 24 one-bedroom apartments, 33 two-bedroom units and eight three-bedroom units, all 65 of which are affordable and deed restricted. A community building will include offices for on-site management and resident services.

The agreement between Pennrose and the Toole family, addressing concerns they raised in January, limits outdoor construction hours to 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with no Sundays, and blasting would be limited at 11:15 a.m. for 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding weekends, to minimize impact on hotel guests.

The deal also moves the apartment building that was closest to the hotel, moving it to the south side of the Brushwood property. The agreement includes an improved landscape screen to protect the hotel complex.

The rental property cannot be converted to condominium, under one of the conditions included in the overall project approval.

Construction, beginning with site preparation, is expected to begin next spring at the earliest, with completion 12 to 15 months later, said Charlie Adams, regional vice president of Pennrose’s Boston office.

Renewable leases of at least six months will prohibit subletting, ensuring that the 65 apartments, ranging from one-bedroom to three-bedroom units, cannot be used for Airbnb-style short-term rentals.

ZBA members generally praised the plan effusively.

“It’s a really smart project, and I’m very, very happy to see it come to fruition,” said Kimberly Duval.

But, she added, “It’s a shame that in this community we are not able to rehabilitate more old houses. There are a lot of homes that could be used as market price housing, but the costs, between lead, asbestos, plumbing, HVAC, it’s just ridiculous. This means we have dilapidated buildings that continue to languish.

As ZBA member Jedd Hall pointed out, “The market is so tight and so competitive. Without this type of project, we will not have young professionals, people who work in the industry, who will not have housing. It seems to be exactly where it should be, in the right place, and certainly at the right time.

He pointed to “skyrocketing house prices”, quoting a Lenox Dale neighbor who sold a house for $50,000 above asking price, “by sight unseen”.

Pennrose had been the runner-up candidate to develop a mixed-income housing complex in Sawmill Brook on Housatonic Street, across from Caligari’s Hardware and just off the National Highway bypass. The proposal failed to gain the necessary two-thirds supermajority at the 2019 annual municipal meeting, where it failed by 73 votes amid intense opposition from local wards. Under recently approved state legislation, only a simple majority is now required for such projects.

Pennrose’s now approved application is for a Massachusetts Chapter 40B development. State law allows local zoning appeal boards to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 25% of units have long-term accessibility restrictions.

After giving the go-ahead for the entire project, ZBA members unanimously approved by-law waivers to allow multi-family buildings in the Gateway mixed-use zoning district which includes Brushwood Farm, for permitted subdivision density in a residential neighborhood, as well as another waiver allowing five units per building.

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