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Planning board recommends approval of revised St. Joe’s plan

February 16, 2012
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - The village Planning Board voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend the village Board of Trustees approve a revised rezoning plan for a 25-bed veterans community residence proposed by St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers.

The decision, which came at the end of a three-hour meeting, is just a recommendation; it will be up to the village board to either approve or reject the rezoning request, which will most likely be on its agenda in March. If the rezoning is approved, St. Joseph's will still have to go back to the Planning Board to seek site plan approval for the project.

At the board's last meeting in January, neighbors of the proposed facility raised concerns about St. Joseph's request to rezone a 3-acre parcel of land off Kiwassa Road, which is currently zoned residential, to accommodate the facility. They said the 10,000-square-foot dormitory would damage their property values and the neighborhood's residential character, and asked St. Joseph's to put it on the centers' 26-acre main campus off Glenwood Drive.

Article Photos

St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers CEO Bob Ross speaks at Wednesday night’s Saranac Lake Planning Board meeting in the Harrietstown Town Hall.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

St. Joseph's officials agreed to take a second look at alternative sites for the nearly $3 million, state-funded project, which would serve veterans suffering from substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The revised proposal presented Wednesday involves the rezoning of roughly half of that undeveloped 3-acre parcel to accommodate part of the veterans building, its parking lot and its access road. The other half of the property would remain zoned residential and would serve as a permanent buffer, ranging in width from 100 feet to more than 200 feet, between the dormitory and the four closest homes. The building itself has also been moved farther away from those four houses.

St. Joseph's CEO Bob Ross described the proposal as a "win-win situation" for all the parties involved.

"The veterans get the services we all want to give them, St. Joe's is able to locate it in an affordable location, and the neighbors are not having that come at their expense," he said.

But there is one significant hook to this revised plan. The building would be located on one of two paper streets that several of the neighboring property owners have a right of way over, or partially own. St. Joseph's would need the property owners to give up those rights to make its proposal viable.

The revised plan drew generally positive reactions from the adjacent homeowners who spoke Wednesday night, though they still had several concerns and noted that this was the first time they had seen the specifics.

"There's been some positive changes to the proposed project," said neighbor Mark Sengenberger. "These changes may help to minimize, but they don't eliminate all the negative impacts to our property."

"The main concern still exists regarding the placement of the dormitory in a residential area instead of on the main campus," said Lionel Arlan. "However, the latest proposed location is a substantial improvement from the original proposal."

Nearly a dozen different sites on or near St. Joseph's main campus had been considered for the facility; most were ruled out because of cost factors, building constraints or program-related issues.

Dr. David Merkel, St. Joseph's medical director, said it wouldn't be good to have the facility too close to the activities on the main campus.

"For us to have this project have the maximum benefit for the veterans ... they need to be in an environment that is most conducive to their healing, and that requires them to be somewhat isolated from the main campus," Merkel said.

Some of the neighbors have said the rezoning doesn't comply with the village's master plan. During Wednesday's meeting, village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans outlined the reasons why he felt that wasn't the case with the revised rezoning request.

St. Joseph's wants to change the current residential zoning of half of the 3-acre parcel to match that of the L1 zoning on the main St. Joseph's campus. The objective of that L1 zoning, Evans said, is to allow institutional expansion while protecting residential areas from encroachment. Evans said the revised proposal prevents that encroachment through the proposed buffer, and by St. Joseph's agreeing to waive any additional building rights on the property.

Planning board Chairwoman Leslie Karasin said she felt St. Joseph's had met that burden.

"I personally feel that although it's a sub-optimal situation in terms of timing and being able to process all the information, I do feel a good-faith effort has been made to meet that goal, to allow the institutional expansion while working to protect adjacent residential areas."

Board member Scott Stoddard noted that there could be a greater impact to neighbors if the 3-acre parcel was subdivided and developed with several homes, which would be allowed under the current zoning.

"I commend everyone for getting to this point," Stoddard said. "This is a much better design, and this is the way things can get done with people talking and working together."

After a lengthy discussion, board members agreed to recommend approval of the revised request to the village board, provided St. Joseph's gets site plan approval, establishes the buffer in a way that ensures it's permanent, and legally waives any additional building rights on the property.

The village board could call for a public hearing on the rezoning request at its Feb. 29 meeting. The earliest the hearing could be held would be at the board's March 12 meeting.



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