SARANAC LAKE - Housing issues in the community, the future of the downtown and a planned unit development proposed around St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers were some of the key talking points at a public hearing held last week on the village's new draft comprehensive plan.
About 25 people showed up on Dec. 11 for the first of two public hearings that day on the draft plan, which is designed to be the blueprint for future growth and development in the community. It's the product of six years of work.
Following a 15-minute overview of the plan by Jim Martin of the LA Group consulting firm, the meeting was opened to public comment. Among those who spoke was Betsy Minehan who asked Martin to explain how the plan would impact the downtown area.
Martin said the plan tries, to the extent possible, "to concentrate commercial and retail uses in the downtown, and to try to diminish those types of uses going out into the corridors, and continue to have the downtown area serve as the core of the community."
Questions were also asked about how the plan addresses some of the housing issues the community is facing, such as the condition and affordability of existing housing stock, and limitations on new construction in the village.
Martin said the plan calls for creation of a program to rehabilitate former cure cottages, restore them and offer them back to the community as affordable housing.
"That accomplishes several goals at once," Martin said, "including retention and preservation of a unique asset in the form of these cottages. It fills the need for affordable housing, and it keeps them under the (control) of people in the community."
Sibohan Crary, who lives near St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers, asked about a recommendation that calls for a planned unit development to be created around St. Joseph's. Martin referenced a controversy in that area earlier this year when St. Joseph's proposed rezoning part of its property for a 25-bed treatment center for veterans suffering from substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"What planned unit development does is allows a master plan to be developed for that site before there is any known project," Martin said. "That way, the neighborhood and the wider village will have an idea and expectation of what's to happen there, instead of being in this constant reactionary mode."
Susan Hahn of the Village Improvement Society said the document doesn't do enough to recognize the "strength and vitality" of the volunteer community in the village.
Jamie Konkoski noted that energy conservation initiatives seem to be absent from the plan's natural and environmental resources section.
Earlier, Martin said the plan complements and builds on some of the previous planning efforts in the community, going back as far as 1910. The last time the comprehensive plan was updated was 1988. A committee of village and town of Harrietstown residents delivered a draft plan to the village board in late 2009, but it was never adopted. The town eventually backed out of doing a joint plan.
Another group of volunteers, including several people involved with the 2009 plan, has been guiding the planning process over the past year-and-a-half. Martin said this Project Advisory Committee based its goals and recommendations on public input, including feedback from a series of workshops in October 2011, a community survey performed for the 2009 plan and a prior series of hearings in 2010.
"Public outreach is the cornerstone of any good planning document," he said. "Every committee member saw each and every comment, it was discussed, and it really was the foundation of this document."
The 172-page, 58,000-word plan includes a long list of priority initiatives. Some of its goals include establishing a business incubator to nurture startup companies, developing a marketing strategy, improving and expanding recreation and arts facilities, re-establishing a village beach on Lake Flower and creating public restrooms downtown.
Martin said the plan is focused on realistic goals.
"We want to make sure we advance those things that actually can be done," he said. "This is going to be a working tool for the community."
Jill Wenner congratulated those who worked to develop the plan "both times.
"You all put in so much work, and I applaud you and thank you for bringing it to this point," she said.
Comments on the plan are being accepted through Friday, Dec. 21. They can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or at the village offices, 39 Main St., Saranac Lake, NY 12983.
Once all the comments have been received and reviewed, the draft will be revised and presented to the village board, most likely sometime in January. The board will have to hold its own public hearing before the plan can be adopted.
The project was funded through a grant from New York's Department of State.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.