By Bill Densmore Originally published on GreylockNews.com
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – How big a hotel-and-golf complex could be developed at Waubeeka Golf Links if town-meeting voters next week take the advice of Williamstown selectmen? One possible answer is: A resort 50 percent larger than the current Williams Inn. Another possible answer: Whatever a developer thinks can fit on 10 acres. That’s because Monday’s 4-1 vote of the Selectmen sided with Waubeeka owner Mike Deep’s desire not to have any square-footage limitation on his project buildings. The only restriction is a limitation of 120 “guest units” – which could be multiple rooms.
Five days earlier, on a 3-2 vote, the Planning Board recommended voters adopt a maximum 60,000 gross-square-foot buildings restriction on the 10-acre development. Deep’s attorney, Stanley Parese, declined at both meetings to suggest a square-foot measurement that his client would find acceptable. However, Parese already informed the town that a “concept” estimate would be 115,000 square feet, according to both Parese and town planner Andrew Groff, including: A hotel-restaurant of 102,000 square feet, and a golf clubhouse, pro shop, cart barn and maintenance building totaling another 13,000 square feet. “Gross square feet” (GSF) refers to a sum of the usable space on all floors of a structure, not just the ground footprint. And it would of course include per-room hallway space, mechanical shafts, stairways, kitchens, meeting rooms, dining rooms, offices and the like.
Groff’s research for the Planning Board found the present 126-room Williams Inn has 70,491 GSF, or an average of 559 GSF per guest room. He found the 49-room Orchards Hotel has 51,346 GSF (1,048 per room average). The 195-guest-room Equinox resort and spa in Manchester, Vt., has 137,500 square feet of hotel and dining (705 per room average) and 28,000 GSF of golf clubhouse and overall maintenance. Finally, Groff found the 125-room Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge has 82,944 GSF (663 per room average) for its hotel and restaurants. Averaging smallest GSF room sizes of the compared hotels yields a figure of 743 gross square feet, as potentially typical for a hotel with restaurant facilities. On that basis, a 120 “room” hotel and restaurant at Waubeeka would likely be at least 89,000 GSF.
A visit by GreylockNews.com to the Berkshire Mountain Lodge (the former Patriot Suites) on Dan Fox Drive in Pittsfield yielded additional information. Berkshire Mountain lodge is owned by the Berkley Group, the same Fort Lauderdale worldwide timeshare resort developer that owns Vacation Village at Jiminy Peak in Hancock. Berkshire Mountain Lodge has 146 two-room suites averaging 900 square-feet per suite and records of the Pittsfield city assessors’ records give the gross square footage of the five-story building as 120,072 square feet. Each suite has a bedroom, a large bathroom and a living room with kitchen appliances installed at one end of the livingroom.
The language of both the Selectmen-endorsed Waubeeka proposal sought by Deep and the Planning-Board endorsed proposal define a “country inn” as a permitted use in the zoning overlay they would create. It is defined as “an establishment where overnight transient sleeping accommodations are provided to lodgers in one or more guest units without kitchens.” Nowhere does the Deep proposal talk about “rooms.” In addition, neither state building code nor local rules appear to define the word “kitchen” leaving the meaning of that word to common assumptions. Is an area of a room that has some appliances in it a “kitchen”?
Thus an all-suites lodge like the Berkshire Mountain Lodge timeshare structure in Pittsfield would be a permitted use under either proposal. It is considered generally against the law (see North Carolina and Florida cases) to use zoning to regulate ownership, thus nothing in the proposals would prevent the use of a Waubeeka structure for multi-room timeshares. Assuming 900 square feet per “guest unit” across 120 units, the Waubeeka hotel and dining facility could conceivably be 108,000 gross square feet over three floors, or about 36,000 GSF per floor. The Pittsfield timeshare development averages 24,014 GSF per floor. Or, put another way, at 108,000 gross square feet, a Waubeeka resort would be 50 percent larger than the 70,491 square foot Williams Inn. Thus, a permitted all-suites hotel as would be typical of a timeshare development—something that is not restricted by any of the zoning proposals before town meeting on Tuesday—could have an estimated ground footprint 50% larger than the Berkshire Mountain Lodge.
Groff, the town planner, says an average single hotel room is about 500 GSF. That’s consistent with the Williams Inn figure. If a Waubeeka project were built to a room size more typical of The Equinox—considered a high-end resort—at about 700 GSF per room, that would entail an 84,000 GSF, three-story building, or about a 28,000 square-foot ground footprint—still about 16 percent larger on the ground than the Pittsfield timeshare, which is on 17 acres.
All of this is speculative, because both Deep and his attorney have consistently declined to provide to GreylockNews any definitive figures, despite receiving a detailed email on May 9 from GreylockNews.com outlining a similar analysis to that given above. They say that, because Deep has no developer lined up yet and therefore no definitive plan, they would be speculating.
Instead, voters—and officials—are speculating. “I don’t know what the 120 rooms means in terms of square footage,” town resident Stephanie Boyd told Selectmen at their Monday meeting. “There is not something we have been able to get answered.” Boyd erroneously referred to rooms, when both proposals speak of “guest units.” Added Andrew Hogeland, a Selectman: “One hundred and twenty units doesn’t mean anything in terms of size to people . . . the Williams Inn is about 120 units and Sweetwood is about 70 units but their sizes are very different . . . the concern about using units as the only unit of measurement is, nobody knows what that means.” Hogeland, who lives in South Williamstown near Waubeeka, also said he thought the lack of a square-foot measurement would make it difficult for Deep’s zoning-change bid to pass. He said: “And at Town Meeting, which is the last time that the Town Meeting will have a say on how big this development is going to be—if they say how big it is going to be based on a number of units, which isn’t even a measurement, that’s going to be a big hurdle, I think, to get over.”