SARANAC LAKE - A long, winding and sometimes contentious review process for St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers' proposed veterans residence came to an end Wednesday night when the village planning board conditionally approved the project.
The 4-0 decision came at the end of a marathon four-hour meeting, according to village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans.
"It's got a conditional green light," he said. "It took a long, time but everybody was satisfied with the outcome."
St. Joseph's approached the village in December with a request to rezone a vacant, forested 3-acre parcel off Kiwassa Road where the 10,000-square-foot dormitory would be located to match that of the center's main 27-acre property. The smaller parcel was zoned for residential use only while the larger parcel is a zoning district specific to the St. Joseph's campus.
But residents who live near the parcel said the zoning change, and the project, would impact the character and property values of their neighborhood.
St. Joseph's then revised its plan and asked the village 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 eastern half would remain zoned residential and would serve as a permanent buffer between the dormitory and the four closest homes.
The village board voted unanimously March 13 to approve the revised rezoning request, which most residents of the neighborhood supported.
With the rezoning approved, the project itself was on the planning board agenda Wednesday night for special permit site plan review.
"St. Joe's outlined the project, and the planning board went through all the different normal components of a project to look at lighting, stormwater, the building design, traffic flows - all of those types of things," Evans said. "In the end, the planning board approved the project with five conditions."
The first two conditions require St. Joseph's to file covenants with Franklin County that protect the buffer zone and waive additional building rights on the western portion of the property.
It also has to submit legal documents that say it has the right to construct the building on a paper street that borders the parcel.
St. Joe's also must provide the board with a landscaping and screening plan for the buffer zone, and a stormwater management plan and screening plan for the western side of the property.
"So, the approval basically gives St. Joe's enough to go on that they can start getting down to designing the project," Evans said. "They have that assurance but they still need to do some final things and come back before the planning board."
Overall, Evans said he thinks the multi-stage review process resulted in a much better project.
"I think all the parties involved deserve a lot of credit because they all worked together," he said. "They didn't just stand their ground and show no ability to compromise. St. Joe's and the neighbors talked on the side and came up with mutually beneficial solutions. The planning board deserves credit, too, because it had a lot to wade through due to the rezoning.
"The process worked, and the project is much better than originally proposed, and it's still going forward. It's a service everybody agrees is necessary, and it creates 15 jobs. I think it was one of those win-win-wins."
St. Joseph's CEO Bob Ross said the collaborative approach helped resolve all the outstanding issues without litigation or further acrimony.
"It is an outstanding accomplishment for the Saranac Lake community that the pursuit of the much needed veterans program at St. Joe's was able to remain the key focus, and that all of the surrounding issues were addressed through reasonable and creative compromise and accommodation," Ross said in a statement.
Ross the bidding process for the project will take place next, with a hopeful groundbreaking this summer. Weather permitting, the building will be completed in early 2013, Ross said.
Planning board member Don Carlisto was absent from Wednesday's meeting.