The village Board of Trustees recently approved an annexation agreement with the American Management Association, making way for the addition of 68 acres of prime real estate to the village. This long-talked-about growth program is an exciting opportunity for the village, the town of St. Armand and entire region.
By joining the village, AMA will get village water and sewer services at the cheaper village rates, full access to the Mount Pisgah Ski Center and its new recreational trail system, and have the village economic development team as a partner - the same proven team that is bringing two biotech companies to Saranac Lake. Already, AMA has hired a respected land-planning firm to help them maximize the tremendous potential of these 68 acres. One can easily envision more family homes on Park Avenue and condominiums near Mount Pisgah.
In return, the village's ratepayers get the cheapest and most practical route for its new state-mandated water system, lowered yearly water system operating costs and the prospect for many more users to share the costs and lessen the water and sewer rates even further.
The taxpayers from the village, town of St. Armand, county and school district will see property that is now tax exempt added to the tax rolls and a flow of new tax dollars into municipal coffers. AMA would only need to sell two or three of its homes now on AMA Way - which will become a four-block extension of Park Avenue - for the village to "break even" on its $4,600-a-year street maintenance cost.
This annexation represents change, and the underlying concepts are new. Of course, "change" and "new concepts" are sometimes frightening to a few. Some say there is no guarantee that AMA will develop. Several are afraid of the environmental process required by annexation. Others question the way the village is getting its easement. And some are scared the town of St. Armand will somehow lose something.
These concerns deserve re-answering. AMA is not guaranteeing anything other than a good-faith effort. Most board members take them at their word, just as they have with other developers over the years, relying on the compelling force of the free market and profit potential to spur AMA onward. With annexation, there is no reason for AMA to just sit on its campus assets and millions of reasons to turn them into cash.
The environmental conditions are always a consideration for everyone, whether one builds a simple house or takes title to a road, but we must bear in mind that AMA is the developer and whatever development it does in the future will, by law, follow all environmental guidelines, the cost of which it will bear.
The village does not have the power of eminent domain outside its boundaries and must negotiate with property owners for any easements. For the AMA easement, the village agreed to install certain pieces of infrastructure instead of paying cash, a different, practical and cost-effective approach. By all reckoning, the cost of the infrastructure is far less than an outright cash purchase based on what was paid for the other acquisitions, a huge savings for ratepayers.
The town of St. Armand, especially, comes out way ahead in this deal. Without lifting a finger, it will get the town tax on every single property that goes on the tax rolls as all village taxpayers also pay a town property tax (Harrietstown, North Elba or St. Armand).
I believe strongly in AMA, the potential of its campus and the future of the Saranac Lake area, one of the fastest growing population centers in the Adirondacks. By rising above "the way we've always done it," realistically examining the pluses and minuses and partnering with major players like AMA, we not only invest in our future but, in fact, ensure one.