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Open letter to the Mahidas: Build the hotel, but respect the spirit of the bylaw

In a joint letter to the editor four concernedGreat Barrington residents write: "If they are truly listening, then surely they are getting the message: Tearing down Searles to put in a new oversized 95 room hotel while pretending to “preserve” the historic site is not acceptable."

To the Editor:

It was impressive to see how much of the redesigned plan for the proposed hotel the Mahidas presented at the December public hearing had incorporated many of the suggestions made by the residents, business owners, and licensing boards in Great Barrington. It seems they really were listening, as they presented a proposal that attempts to recreate the “look” of Searles School — only on a much larger scale. For a moment, many of us felt truly hopeful.

What is troubling however, was how everyone on the Mahida/McCormick team managed to avoid using the words “raze” or “demolish.” Instead, the words “preservation,” “redevelopment” and “restoration” were used repeatedly.

This is terribly misleading. It is clear from the plans that the Mahidas propose to demolish Searles in order to get 95 rooms, bring the hotel closer to the road, add more levels, enlarge the overall footprint, and eliminate all of the mature trees in front of Searles. Do they realize that at four stories high and 90,000 square feet “The Berkshire” will be the largest building in our village? That’s hard for people to visualize, especially since human scale figures were absent from most of the architectural renderings.

We believe them when they say they are deeply committed to this town, and we respect the hard work they have put into building their businesses here. It is a wonderful thing. And as residents themselves, we are sure they also would want the laws upheld and enforced. So in the end, it’s disturbing that their presentation felt like a very slick pitch to convince the Selectboard (and the public) to disregard the spirit and intent of the bylaw passed in 2014.

It is a bold move to disregard the obvious options that exist under the town bylaws: A) Take advantage of the historic designation for the Searles site by restoring the building and thereby earning the privilege of increase the number of rooms from 45 to 95, or B) tear down Searles and build a completely new hotel, abiding by the 45 room limit. They simply cannot have it both ways — seek historic designation on a building in order to get the 95 room special permit while demolishing the historic building that presented an opportunity for the variance in the first place.

If the Mahidas are committed to manifesting their dream of running a boutique hotel in downtown Great Barrington as they have publicly stated, why not really do it? Make the effort. It’s been done successfully thousands of times around the world. Restore and renovate Searles School into a true boutique hotel. Maximize the architectural and historical charm of the building as a draw for upscale visitors. Put in the appropriate number of rooms the school can comfortably accommodate — 45, 60, 90? Put in a quality farm-to-table restaurant, fitness center, pool, and library. Take advantage of all of the site’s unique qualities in a sensitive and sustainable way, restoring the entire property in the same respectful, dedicated and generous manner Jane Iredale and Bob Montgomery have demonstrated at Bryant School and elsewhere.

If they are truly listening, then surely they are getting the message: Tearing down Searles to put in a new oversized 95 room hotel while pretending to “preserve” the historic site is not acceptable.

Please build a true boutique hotel on the Searles site – just don’t misconstrue (or allow their counsel to misconstrue) the meaning of the bylaws passed by the residents of Great Barrington.

We support them in following their dreams but not by violating the town bylaws.

Lois Hobbs

Bob Luhman

Meryl Joseph

Gabrielle Senza

The writers are all residents of Great Barrington.


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