SARANAC LAKE - Recruiting more job-creating employers, returning the village beach to Lake Flower and allowing homeowners to raise backyard chickens are some of the priority initiatives in the latest draft of the village's comprehensive plan.
After years of work, the process of updating the plan, which is designed to guide future growth and development in the community, is finally winding down.
"It's taken us six years to get to this point, but it's my pleasure to be able to provide to the board our draft of the comprehensive plan update," village Trustee Paul Van Cott told the village Board of Trustees at its Nov. 13 meeting.
A pair of public hearings on the plan will be held Dec. 11 in the Harrietstown Town Hall. The first will be from 3 to 5 p.m. in the town board room in the building's basement, while the second is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. in the village board room on the second floor.
The village's current comprehensive plan hasn't been updated since 1988. A committee of village and Harrietstown residents was appointed in 2006 to come up with a joint town-village plan. It conducted a series of public meetings, distributed a survey to town and village residents and ultimately delivered a draft plan to the village board in late 2009. However, many of its recommendations, including proposed guidelines for the size of retail stores, proved controversial, and large sections of the plan were scrapped by the village board in the fall of 2010.
By that point, the town board had backed out of the joint plan, and village board members decided to meld the parts of the committee's plan they liked with an update to the 1988 plan. A new group of citizens and village board members - the Project Advisory Committee - was formed last year to finish the project, and it hosted a series of meetings beginning in October 2011 to gather additional public input. The LA Group of Saratoga Springs was hired with a $75,000 state grant to help draft the plan.
"This is our road map for future planning in the village, and a lot of good people put a lot of hard work into it," Van Cott said, adding that the plan was based on five years of public input. "Throughout the process, every time we'd sit down and talk about a new area, the starting point was the public comment we received in the hearings that had occurred back in 2010."
The draft plan is 172 pages long. While that seems like a lot, village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans said the committee worked hard to make it as easy to read as possible.
"It's long, but it's readable," he told the Enterprise. "It doesn't have a lot of planning jargon that nobody would understand. We consciously tried to avoid that. A really important part was trying to narrow down the number of goals that are included in the plan, so it's not as overwhelming."
The plan is divided into 11 sections: community/economic development; recreational resources/facilities and the arts; historic and cultural resources, commercial and industrial facilities; institutional, government and educational; infrastructure and utilities; natural/environmental resources and interface; housing; transportation; agricultural resources; and health and emergency services.
The plan's priority initiatives, listed in an executive summary at its beginning, include establishing a business incubator to nurture startup companies, developing a recruitment and marketing strategy, improving and expanding recreation and arts facilities, re-establishing a village beach on Lake Flower, encouraging the reuse of buildings, looking into the feasibility of creating public restrooms downtown, working with property owners to fix deteriorating retaining walls, creating a program to rehabilitate former cure cottages and exploring a possible village transit system.
The second half of the plan outlines specific strategies and proposals for each neighborhood, or "plan area," of the village.
"People can hone in on where they live, and see how the plan directly relates to their neighborhood," Evans said. "We'd love feedback on that part."
The plan closes with a four-page implementation schedule.
Unlike the 2010 plan, this version doesn't include any guidelines or size caps for retail stores or shopping centers, although it does speak of "the need to undertake business development in a matter that fits into the existing development pattern."
"That was purposeful," Evans said. "It was a judgment call that the first committee made to say, 'Let's see if we can make some recommendations to try to move along that sore subject and that debate.' Maybe you could argue that it backfired because it got all the attention at the expense of the rest of the plan.
"This time around, it was purposely decided that we'll talk about the fundamentals and planning and some of the public comment we received when it comes to retail. But really it isn't a place for a comprehensive plan to go as into detail as we tried to in the first round. That's what the land-use code is for."
Asked about the proposal to allow people to have backyard chickens, Evans said some people in the village have them now, and as long as they don't create problems for neighbors, they're generally not a problem. However, that kind of agricultural use is something that's not really addressed in the current plan.
Evans said he hopes people can attend at least one of the public meetings. Those who can't may submit comments in writing before Dec. 14 to email@example.com or to the village offices, 39 Main St., Saranac Lake, NY 12983.
After public comments and other revisions are incorporated into the draft plan, the committee will refer it to the village board for final review and adoption. The board will then hold its own public hearing.
Although work on the comprehensive plan is wrapping up, the committee's work isn't complete; It has already started updating the village land-use code, a process that could take four to six months.
Copies of the draft plan are available for review at the village offices, at the Saranac Lake Free Library and on the village's website at saranaclakeny.gov.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.