Stockbridge Planners Seek Public Input On DeSisto Redevelopment

Jan 10, 2018

Stockbridge, Massachusetts planners want public input on a proposed 320-acre luxury resort redevelopment project that would require zoning bylaw changes. Neighbors say the plan will hurt the rural town’s quality of life.

The $150 million 37 Interlaken development proposal would transform the historic school into residential housing, self-sufficient farmland and a luxury resort.

“The DeSisto School site was previously developed with over half a million square feet of industrial age, institutional buildings that were part of this boarding school that closed down a number of years ago,” Jonathan Silverstein says. “Nonprofit, educational institutions like the former school are exempt from zoning, so they were able to build all of that space. But this proposal is not exempt.”

In a recent letter to Stockbridge lawmakers, the developer’s attorney Jonathan Silverstein said the Board of Selectmen in December discussed a proposed bylaw change, which Silverstein says is needed to build. Silverstein contends the unscheduled discussion left developers out.

“The Board of Selectmen refused to meet with the project proponents. They had engaged in a very lengthy discussion of the proposal and the project, made a number of unfounded, negative assertions about the project, and clearly opponents of the project and their lawyers were on notice of the fact of this discussion although we were not,” Silverstein says.

“And it seems to me that Stockbridge might be facing a hostile takeover,” Jon Hart said. “[Select Board: Well done.] And I really object to this.”

Jon Hart, who referred to the project as a “hostile takeover,” told WAMC his comments in town meetings reflected how the 37 Interlaken team has chosen to deal with the town selectmen and conducts business. Hart’s a member of the town’s Conservation Committee and a representative of the ad-hoc Zoning Review Committee.

The December 18th meeting was recorded by Community Television for the Southern Berkshires. Town Selectman Terry Flynn echoed Hart’s concern.

“The opportunity for negotiation to take place in regular order is really being completely bypassed here,” Flynn says.

Silverstein says the conversation violated the state’s open meeting law, lacking proper notice on the agenda.

Town Counsel J. Raymond Miyares contends the developers are entitled to procedural due process. He broke down the zoning change.

“Traditionally the Cottage Era bylaw has required that a special permit be ordered by the Board of Selectmen approving not just the use, but the configuration of the buildings,” Miyares said. “The Selectmen had the discretion either to approve it or not to approve it, and a by right use dispenses with all of that, and all that’s left is a site plan review, which would occur before Planning Board and you do not have the authority to deny site plan approval.”

The project calls for 120 acres of developed land, including renovation of the DeSisto mansion, to accommodate a 40-50 room hotel; and the construction of six new condominium buildings, totaling 139 units, and 34 clustered single-families homes, set back in the property. The rest is open space and farmland, all just south of Tanglewood.

Residents can weigh in at a Stockbridge Planning Board public hearing February 6th, before the board makes its recommendation. The bylaw will be voted on at the May 21st town meeting. If approved, groundbreaking would be in 2020.

“It is going to require a significant amount of clearing – clearing of trees and brush,” Alex Glover says. “It’s also going to involve significant intrusion into protected wetlands areas.”

Attorney Alex Glover of Lazan Glover & Puciloski in Great Barrington represents a property abutter. She says she’s going to the public hearing.

“I think what’s telling here: the developer is that under current zoning in Stockbridge simply unable to construct what is proposed to be constructed. It can’t be done,” Glover says. “Whether you support or do not support a development, this is a really important process. This is where the town has the ability to have conditions, to say yes or no to certain aspects and in the end to deny the project if the town feels that is best.”

The developer’s attorney disagrees, and says town government is still involved in the planning process. Silverstein says he’s trying to dispel other rumors — like could the site host a casino someday?

“The owner of the project has absolutely no interest, has never considered this as a casino site,” Silverstein says. “There is zero possibility of this being a casino site under the law. It is literally impossible.”

The developers are holding open houses at 5 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday at the site to answer community concerns.