SARANAC LAKE - Different site, same concerns.
The village and the Saranac Lake SkatePark Committee hosted a public forum Thursday on the latest proposed location for a village skatepark. The current plan calls for a 5,219-square-foot park surrounded by another 3,000-square-feet of green space in the downtown parking lot behind Community Bank, next to the Enterprise.
Three people who came to the meeting - the publisher of a neighboring newspaper office, the manager of a nearby cafe and a local photographer who used to own a gallery nearby - raised a list of concerns with the site: potential noise impacts, safety concerns, worries about litter and crime, and concerns that the site was too secluded and wouldn't have enough supervision.
The proposed Saranac Lake skatepark would be in the downtown parking lot behind Community Bank, next to the Enterprise building.
Those concerns seemed all too familiar to village officials and members of the committee. They said the same kinds of issues have come up with some of the other 22 sites around the community where they've considered putting a skatepark over the past nine years.
"Everything you've brought up has been brought up exactly the same at every one of those locations," village Trustee Barbara Rice told the speakers at the end of the discussion.
Each speaker prefaced his or her remarks by expressing support for the idea of a skateboard park.
"I want to make it clear that I'm all in favor of a skateboard park. I think it's great," said Mark Kurtz, who moved his photography gallery from Broadway to Main Street last year.
However, Kurtz said the proposed site is not visible enough to be under the kind of "passive" supervision from nearby streets that the committee has said is necessary for a successful skatepark. It's blocked by a hedgerow behind Community Bank and sits below the crest of a hill, he noted.
Kurtz also worried about losing parking spaces and a plan to set a three-hour limit in the parking lot, which he said is used by people who work at nearby businesses and who live in the area.
Rice noted that only three to four parking spots would be lost by adding the skatepark. The logic behind the time limit, she said, is to make the lot more usable for visitors and customers of area businesses, and to have employees and nearby residents park at other nearby municipal lots.
Enterprise Publisher Cathy Moore said she was concerned about the village's plan to no longer allow vehicle traffic between the Community Bank parking lot and Church Street. Trustee Allie Pelletieri said that's "technically illegal now."
Moore said closing off through traffic will create a hazard for kids getting to the skatepark, as delivery trucks trying to get to the JC Penney catalog store or the Left Bank Cafe would have to enter off of Church Street and back through the parking lot next to the skatepark.
Moore also said her business has been vandalized in the past by skateboarders. She worried that a skatepark in such a secluded site could become a "hangout at night" that could lead to more vandalism.
Anne Sterling-Alsina, the manager of Left Bank Cafe, said she was concerned about "older, creepy, law-breaking skateboarders" hanging around, which she said is already a problem.
"If I were the mother of a young skateboarder, I'd be worried because it's so secluded," she said. "It's not visible from anywhere."
"What's been found in many other areas is that when you put the skatepark in where there was a previously vacant lot, by having the presence of good kids, families, a child coming there with a parent, that tends to keep the creepies away," said SkatePark Committee member Rich Shapiro.
"This is the same thing we've heard no matter where we want to put the skatepark," Rice responded. She said village police would be asked to increase surveillance of the area.
Sterling-Alsina was also worried about possible noise impacts. The current plan is for a concrete skatepark that committee members said is less noisy than skateparks with metal equipment, but Sterling-Alsina said the noise from the people using the skatepark could put her business "at risk."
"The experience by the river on a summer evening" is what draws people to the cafe, Sterling-Alsina said. "This is noise by the river on the summer evening."
As the meeting came to a close, Rice and Pelletieri said they would look into the issues raised Thursday night, particularly ways to improve the visibility of the site, but they also said they believe the current proposal is the best option after what's been an exhaustive review.
"I see this as an excellent opportunity and a huge investment in our downtown," Rice said. "I don't see attracting people and young families to this area as a negative. It will improve that area. It will not make it worse."
Her mother, Gail Rice, commended the committee for its work.
"Nine years of research certainly should give us the best answers we can find," she said. "Nothing's perfect, and we're back at that whole issue of no one wants it in their backyard. But what about our kids? It's important to provide an additional kind of recreation for our kids in this community."
The village board could consider approving the proposed location at its next meeting, slated for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the village offices.
The committee has raised $75,000 for the project so far. The skatepark, which it hopes to build this year, is expected to cost $120,000 in cash and $50,000 to $60,000 in in-kind services.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.