Canyon Ranch resort receives Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals approval on plan to offer on-site staff housing

By Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle Sep 11, 2023

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Following zoning board approval last week, the Canyon Ranch gatehouse off Kemble Street in Lenox will be converted from resort administrative offices to five apartments for staff housing. CLARENCE FANTO — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE

LENOX — Canyon Ranch has been cleared to create staff housing on the resort’s 119-acre property.

During a meeting last week, the Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved the application to modify its existing special permit to convert the gatehouse at the entrance to the 165 Kemble St. site from administrative offices to a furnished apartment unit with five bedrooms, a living room and kitchen.

The apartment is designated for staff members who are unable to find affordable housing in a town with a very limited supply of rentals.

The health and wellness resort, with 126 guest rooms, a large spa and other facilities, has 200 to 300 employees, depending on the season, and is seeking to fill 20 openings, according to managing director Mindi Morin.

Canyon Ranch needs to compete with other tourist destinations and restaurants for staff, the resort’s attorney Lori Robbins said last Wednesday during her presentation to the board. The apartment would be available free to employees at the resort, specifically those on the federal government’s J1 one-year work visa program. The resort employs three staffers from the Philippines on that visa program, Morin said.

Robbins pointed out that Morin had visited all owners of adjacent properties to advise them of the resort’s proposal to convert the gatehouse. Several letters of support from adjoining homeowners were read at the meeting.

ZBA member Kimberly Duval, voicing approval of the application, noted that it was a “completely valid request” to provide additional housing. And member Shawn Leary Considine cited the important need for staff housing at resorts such as Canyon Ranch.

Describing Canyon Ranch as “a mainstay of this community,” board member Albert Harper called the project “a big benefit to Lenox, a great idea.”

A separate proposal to convert a recently acquired single-family home to an extended stay option for Canyon Ranch guests was postponed until a ZBA meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 18.

In a recent Eagle interview, Morin described this summer as especially challenging for hiring staff.

“When they start looking at rent, it becomes even more expensive to move here,” she said. “And with transportation also being difficult, even if they can find affordable housing, it can be difficult getting to Lenox, especially for many shifts outside 9 to 5.”

She also cited more competition for hiring by the Miraval Berkshires Resort & Spa, the three Lenox Collection downtown inns, the Apple Tree Inn and the Life House Berkshires hotel on Pittsfield Road.

“There are more of us in the market, which I think is great,” Morin said. “Being able to have staff housing will be such a huge win, and less stressful when people are moving here.”