SARANAC LAKE - Homeward Bound Adirondacks is throwing in the towel on creating its first retreat center for veterans at 124 Glenwood Drive.
In a press release sent to the Enterprise Tuesday, Bob Ross, president of the organization's board of directors, said Homeward Bound is dropping the plan due to opposition to the project from neighbors.
"HBA indicated that it would not attempt to force its way into a community that did not support and desire the project in their community," Ross wrote. "As a consensus of support is not now available, HBA is, with great disappointment, withdrawing from pursuit of the 124 Glenwood project. HBA especially regrets the lost opportunity for veteran and community volunteers to work together on restoring an historic house for use as HBA's home base."
Homeward Bound had put down a $12,500 deposit on the vacant home, which Ross said it will now lose. The sale of the property, which is currently Thomas and Richard Trepanier of Mamaroneck, was supposed to close on Tuesday.
Homeward Bound had been promised $125,000 in funding from a foundation headed by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, who grew up in Saranac Lake and is a Homeward Bound board member, to purchase the eight-bedroom home, which at one time was owned by his grandfather, Dr. Francis Berger Trudeau. Ross has said it would have been home to an office and a small retreat center that would host programs for veterans and their families.
The official end of the project comes less than a week after Homeward Bound, at Wednesday's village Planning Board meeting, withdrew a request to have 124 Glenwood and an adjacent vacant parcel rezoned from residential to institutional use due to strong opposition from neighboring property owners. Ross described it as "the best of a poor set of choices" that were recommended by the village for converting the home to a retreat center. Just rezoning 124 Glenwood was ruled out because it would have been spot zoning and subject to a potential legal challenge.
Earlier this month, some neighbors had gone on record supporting the rezoning of 124 Glenwood, as long as a number of conditions restricting the use of the property were adhered to, only to turn against the project after learning Ross had actually sought rezoning of two parcels.
Esther Arlan, one of several Glenwood-area residents who spoke at Monday night's village board meeting, said promises made by Ross and other Homeward Bound supporters several weeks ago to keep the community and neighbors informed about the project in a timely fashion were broken.
Arlan said she's not opposed to serving veterans, but she noted that this is the second time in six months that a rezoning in the area has been proposed for a veteran-related project spearheaded by Ross, who is also the CEO of St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers. Earlier this year, the village board approved the rezoning of a parcel of St. Joseph's land for a 25-bed community residence for veterans suffering from substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder, but only after St. Joe's made a series of concessions to the neighbors, including relocating the building and creating a permanent buffer on the property.
"How many more properties will be rezoned and removed from the tax rolls?" Arlan asked.
Speaking at Monday's meeting, Ross said he hoped for a continued dialogue among the neighbors, the Planning Board and Homeward Bound on finding another way to convert the house to a retreat center.
"It's not the desire of Homeward Bound to impose ourselves on the community, but if there was a way in which something could be worked out collectively, we certainly would be pleased to have such an opportunity," Ross said.
Kiwassa Road resident Steve Erman said he supported Ross' approach to see if "there's a legal way the project could be accommodated in that neighborhood." He urged the village board to have a lawyer, seasoned in planning and zoning, participate in that conversation.
But other neighbors were still concerned. Jon Vinograd said Ross was trying to "shoe horn" the project into the Glenwood neighborhood without changing the zoning.
"The zoning law and the master plan says this is an area for single-family residences only," said Glenwood resident George Nagle. "What part of 'only' don't some people understand?"
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Ross described the opposition as the product of "a serious misunderstanding" about what Homeward Bound had proposed. He said he had talked to one resident of the neighborhood, after the rezoning application was submitted, and described that two parcels were needed to accomplish the rezoning.
"I would take some exception to the notion that we didn't communicate at all," Ross said. "Did we discuss it? Yes. Could the conversation had been more extensive? Undoubtedly."
Ross said he didn't know if the $125,000 in funding from Trudeau's Grandison Foundation for the purchase of the house would still be available to Homeward Bound.
While the Glenwood project is now off the table, Ross said Homeward Bound will continue to focus on developing and implementing its veteran reintegration programs, fundraising and finding another site for its activities. The organization will soon be announcing the receipt of a "major grant," Ross said.