SARANAC LAKE - The village Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the rezoning of 1.53 acres of land off Kiwassa Road for St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers' proposed community residence for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.
The decision came after a public hearing at which a majority of the neighborhood's residents who spoke- many of whom had been staunchly against the rezoning when it was first proposed - voiced support for St. Joseph's revised rezoning request.
"We think the proposal as put forth at this point is reasonable," said Kiwassa Road resident Mark Sengenberger, who had opposed an earlier plan that would have put the facility closer to houses.
St. Joseph's initially asked the village to rezone the full 3-acre parcel, which is currently zoned for residential use only, to match the zoning of the center's main 27-acre property. The organization plans to build a two-story, 25-bed, 10,000-square-foot dormitory on the site using roughly $2 million in state funding.
But residents who live near the parcel said the zoning change, and the uses and activities associated with the project, would impact the character and property values of their neighborhood.
St. Joseph's then revised its plan and is now planning to rezone approximately half, or 1.53 acres, of the parcel. Part of the building, its parking lot and access road would be located on that western half of the property. The other half 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.
At its Feb. 15 meeting, the village Planning Board recommended the village board approve the revised rezoning request, subject to several conditions, including requirements that St. Joseph's secure a special-use permit from the planning board, permanently dedicate the buffer zone and waive any additional building rights on the property.
The first person to speak at Tuesday's village board public hearing, Hayes Lane resident Jon Vinograd, still had concerns about the project. Specifically, Vinograd said he was worried about the people who would be using the veterans' residence. He referenced a September 2010 manhunt for a parolee being treated at St. Joseph's who walked away from the facility and was eventually apprehended after a massive police response.
"The St. Joe's veterans program description is curiously silent as to whether a candidate will be accepted who has had any violent behavior, self-reported or part of the public record," Vinograd said. "The program is needed but the potential for untoward events involving public health and safety should not be left unaddressed by the village of Saranac Lake Planning Board during its full SEQR review."
Other neighbors told trustees they supported the revised request and said St. Joseph's officials had been responsive to their concerns.
"From my perspective, I no longer have the same level of concern that I did initially," said Kiwassa Road resident Ray Scollin. "I hope you do approve the project."
"There was a lot of poor communication at the beginning that got a lot of the residents up in arms," said Rich Shapiro of Dahinda Road. "I think most of that has been taken care of now through the meetings."
"We are very comfortable with this, and as a veteran of 26 years in the Army, it is definitely a needed facility," said Mike Root of Glenwood Drive. "I have no doubt that St. Joe's, if any precautions are necessary, will take them."
Root said he witnessed the September 2010 incident that Vinograd referred to and said the authorities took it "way out of hand." Shapiro said it was "blown out of proportion."
When the project came up for a vote, trustees echoed much of what had been said about the process.
Trustee Allie Pelletieri credited village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans and the planning board, naming its chairwoman Leslie Karasin, for working to "facilitate a solution to the issues.
"When this whole project started, I was saying, 'Oh boy, here's a nightmare," said Trustee Jeff Branch. "But you guys came together, and this isn't this board. It's the neighbors and St. Joe's. How refreshing it is to see you get together and come to a resolution that most of you can live with."
Now that the rezoning is approved, the veterans residence will have to go through the site plan review process with the planning board. The project is on the board's agenda for its March 21 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the second floor meeting room of the Harrietstown Town Hall.