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The BERKSHIRE hotel: Let’s stay focused on the bylaw

In her letter to the editor, Anni Crofut of Housatonic writes: "I would respectfully ask our Selectboard to remember that a special permit is, indeed, special."

To the editor:

As we approach the Board of Selectmen meeting set for December 16th at which the fate of the Searles school building will be decided, the central issue we, as citizens, need to focus on, is whether or not Majidas’ planned hotel violates the 45-room limit set forth in the bylaws of the town. If the Selectboard is persuaded that Majidas’ plans are not a “re-use” or “re-development” of the historic Searles building, they are under obligation to our bylaws not to issue a special permit and to reject the project.

I would respectfully ask our Selectboard to remember that a special permit is, indeed, special. That is, it should by no means be granted unless the Selectboard is fully persuaded that the BERKSHIRE plans constitute a re-use or re-development of the Searles building.

The Berkshires holds a wealth of architecture classified as “historic” – from Colonial to Victorian to the giant mill buildings along the Housatonic to Searles. Architecturally, these structures bear little in common. What they do share is they are each true architectural representations of their time and function. The changing needs of the local population dictated the architecture, not the other way around.

The uproar in the community about the proposed hotel has to do, I believe, with the extreme architectural divergence between what was a classic Georgian Revival school catering to the families of our community and what is essentially a “big box” homogenized hotel catering to wealthy non-locals and insensitive to the real concerns of local citizens: traffic, housing, environmental sustainability, authenticity of experience for the tourists who support the local economy, value of historic integrity, integration with rather than imposition over local businesses.

The Majida team’s plans, as they were last presented to the Planning Board, violated the town bylaw both in letter and in spirit: In letter because they involved razing the entire original structure (with only a sad nod to “re-use” through the recycling of some of Searles School’s bricks); and in spirit because unlike our beloved historic structures, they showed no relationship to the cultural and social character of the local community. Yes, the BERKSHIRE promises tax revenue for the town, but this is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand:  that of re-use or re-development of the original structure.

Since those plans were last made public, it’s been reported that the Majida team has been furiously at work re-vamping them to better comply as a “re-use” of the Searles building and we will see what this looks like next Wednesday. At that meeting, let’s be sure our Selectboard stays focused on these two questions:  1) Do the plans represent a re-development or re-use of the Searles structure? And 2) Does the architecture respond to and serve our local population’s current social, environmental and community needs in the same spirit that Searles and our other historic structures responded to and served local needs at the times they were built?

We have elected our Selectboard to uphold carefully arrived-upon laws. I respectfully plead that they uphold both the letter and the spirit of these laws.

Anni Crofut

Housatonic, Mass.

 

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