SARANAC LAKE - North Country Community College's plan to partner with Mayor Clyde Rabideau's construction company in building a college Welcome Center on Lake Flower Avenue continues to be a moving target, and village Planning Board members still have questions about key aspects of the project.
The questions that sparked the most discussion at Wednesday's planning board meeting include: the decision to put the 4,200-square-foot building at the back of a pair of lots Rabideau is under contract to purchase; a road that would cut through the properties, linking Lake Flower Avenue to Santanoni Avenue; and the overall architectural design of the building. Planning board members had raised similar concerns at a pre-application conference last month.
Wednesday's meeting was the first since a formal application was submitted for the project. It was also the first time board members got to ask college officials, who weren't on hand for last month's meeting, about their plans, and the first time the public had a chance to weigh in on the project.
North Country Community College President Steve Tyrell talks about the college’s proposed Welcome Center on Lake Flower Avenue at Wednesday night’s village of Saranac Lake Planning Board meeting.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
NCCC President Steve Tyrell said the Welcome Center would house the college's admissions and financial aid offices on the first floor, with the registration and bursar's offices and a conference room on the second floor. As many as 10 employees would work there.
Tyrell said the location of the building on a busy thoroughfare would increase the college's visibility while also providing "one-stop shopping" for student services.
"It's a recruiting tool for people visiting the college, and it's a service operation for students who are already there," he said.
Tyrell and Susan Rdzanek of Rabideau Corp. outlined details of the project, describing the proposed layout of the site, the road that would run through the properties, lighting, signage and the amount of traffic the facility would create.
At last month's meeting, planning board members said the structure would be more visible and more consistent with other Lake Flower Avenue buildings if it was closer to the road with parking behind or on the side of it. Planning Board Chairwoman Leslie Karasin noted Wednesday that the village code says parking should be on the side or rear of a building rather than in front of it.
Rdzanek said they looked at putting the building in another site, but the parcels are limited by setback guidelines and the dimensions of the proposed road.
Tyrell said the orientation of the building is important to the college.
"I'm trying to create a branding opportunity," he said. "If I'm driving through this stretch (of buildings), and there's no break if the building is pushed right up to here. It just looks like another building in a long line of buildings."
"As it is now, it creates an impression," Rdzanek said. "If you turn it (sideways on the lot), you're definitely losing that impact of, 'We're North Country Community College.'"
Planning board member Molly Hann said the college might not make as big an impression on people as it hopes under the current plan.
"If you go with this site plan, in order to actually see the building and use the building for branding, you're going to have to crane your neck while driving along Lake Flower Avenue to have that building be the branding for the college," she said.
Last month, Karasin had also encouraged Rdzanek to consider the Saranac Lake cure cottage architectural style rather than the current neo-alpine style of the welcome center, saying it would blend in better with neighboring buildings.
Despite those concerns, no significant changes were made to the design. Rdzanek said she looked at all the commercial buildings along Lake Flower Avenue and found "there's really not, at this time, an overall theme.
"We're really quite convinced this is the style for the college and for Saranac Lake," Rdzanek said.
"I hear that; I'm sympathetic to it," Karasin said. "At the same time, we as a planning board have to think about every new project as an opportunity to create what the face of the community will be moving forward. We do have architectural guidance in the code that encourages consistency of cure-cottage-inspired look."
Tyrell said the college isn't settled on the design of the building, but he said there are a series of building renovations planned on NCCC's Saranac Lake campus, and the college wants to have a uniform building style.
"I like the neo-alpine because it gives a modern feel to the Adirondack or the alpine effect," he said. "It has to stand out in a way that has a newness but not breaking away from the styles that are here in the town."
The college and Rabideau Corp. want the village to accept the road through the welcome center as a village street.
Community Development Director Jeremy Evans said it would be helpful for the planning board, as well as the applicant, to know whether the village board would accept it.
At Evans request, the planning board agreed to ask the village board if it would accept the street. Evans said he'd try to get it on Monday's village board agenda.
Karasin asked why the college would want the road to be dedicated to the village. A village road would have to be 50 feet wide, including shoulders and rights of way on each side, while a private road would only have to be 22 feet wide, creating more flexibility on the site.
Tyrell said the idea of making it a village street was brought up by the village, not the college.
Asked if a private road might be a better option, Rdzanek said it could be looked at.
A pair of neighbors asked about details of the project during the public hearing. Frannie Preston asked for more clarification on the traffic circulation patterns and the proposed two-way road through the property next to hers. She said she was concerned about people driving too fast through the residential area.
"We have small children in the neighborhood, and the students are known to go very fast up to the college," added Sharon Bishop, who lives across the street from Preston. "So signage maybe or something - I don't know what could be done."
Preston also asked if the facility would see much weekend use. Tyrell said no.
"Generally, I just want to say that I think it's a great project," Preston said. "Although I have lots of questions as a next-door neighbor and I want to do everything I can to protect my little piece of turf, I really like the idea of having the college as a neighbor."
Tyrell said the college plans to discuss the possibility of having its sponsoring counties, Essex and Franklin, bond for a series of projects on the Saranac Lake campus, including the Welcome Center.
"If it came through a bond, the (NCCC) Foundation would buy the property in the short run to secure it, and then we would begin construction," he said.
If bonding isn't an option, Tyrell said the college could seek a private donor or pursue a grant for the facility.
"There's a grant for a $10 million facility, and we missed it this past year, but we missed it on only a couple points, so we're reintroducing that grant for the upcoming year," he said.
If the college can't find a way to fund the project with any of these options, Hann asked if Rabideau Corp. would still construct the building and rent it out as general office space.
"I did check with Clyde, and we wouldn't move forward with the project at all," Rdzanek said. "The property would remain as it is. The (existing houses on the parcels) would be used as rental properties."
The planning board's next meeting is Aug. 21. The public hearing will continue at that time.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.