SARANAC LAKE - Surprisingly few people showed up to speak Wednesday night at the first formal public hearing on zoning change for a proposed hotel on the Lake Flower shoreline.
About a half-dozen local residents stepped to the microphone in the auditorium of the Harrietstown Town Hall to either share concerns or voice support for the project. That's about half the number of people who spoke at an informal public comment session on the hotel at a special village Planning Board meeting on Dec. 3.
Wednesday night's joint village Board of Trustees-Planning Board meeting was over in just under an hour.
Local residents, including Lindy Ellis, right, and Ginger Dora, center, listen to a presentation Wednesday night during a public hearing in the Harrietstown Town Hall in Saranac Lake on a proposed 90-room Lake Flower hotel.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"I was expecting more like a two-hour meeting," village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said afterward. "I was expecting more like 20 people to talk about it instead of half a dozen, but that's OK. We know what the issues are."
Lake Flower Lodging LLC, a company led by Malone developer Chris LaBarge, wants to build a 90-room, four-story, 80,000-square-foot full-service destination and resort hotel on roughly 2.9 acres on Lake Flower. The project includes a 200-person conference center, a spa, two restaurants and on-site and off-site parking. The company was recently awarded $2 million in state funding toward the $15 million to $18 million project.
Before the public hearing was opened, planning board Chairwoman Leslie Karasin outlined issues her board had identified during its review of the proposed hotel over the last few months: the potential visual impacts of the 300-foot-long, 59-foot-6-inch-tall building; traffic and pedestrian safety issues; and whether the project meets the open space requirements of the Planned Unit Development District law.
LaBarge has said it satisfies the open space requirement because the restaurant he's proposed along the Lake Flower shoreline would be open to the public, along with an adjacent viewing deck and boat dock system. But Trustee Allie Pelletieri noted that the Planned Unit Development District law requires the ownership of the open space to fall to the village or a public entity.
Karasin said that requirement wasn't envisioned for a project of this size and will need more review.
"The PUDD law was written envisioning, for example, a 200-acre project where 50 acres was to be set aside and preserved as open space," she said. "I think on a 3-acre site with very significant space constraints, it's a very different equation."
Many of the people who spoke during the hearing had also commented on the project at the Dec. 3 planning board meeting.
Ginger Dora said the hotel would block her backyard views of Lake Flower. She also is concerned about the traffic the business would add, particularly at the hotel's proposed entrance near the Winona Avenue-Lake Flower Avenue intersection. The hotel may also create additional motorboat traffic on the lake, which could cause safety issues for paddlers, Dora said.
Lee Gaillard said he is concerned about the appearance of the hotel.
"The straight roofline and four-story height - it's an uninterrupted expanse and tends not to look like a resort destination," he said. "I won't say it looks like a barracks, but some kind of change in design as you go along that long expanse might help."
Alan Brown called the building "kind of monolithic, with very little to interrupt the facade." He said the offsite parking near the NBT Bank intersection creates traffic and pedestrian safety issues.
"There really needs to be a challenge to the developers as to whether they can make it work one story lower without offsite parking," he said. "With that, I think it could be a really nice project."
Cheryl Madden questioned how the hotel could have a 200-person conference center with only 150 proposed parking spaces.
Mark Wilson repeated concerns about an ongoing state Department of Environmental Conservation investigation of potential hazardous waste in Pontiac Bay from the former Payeville Lane gasification plant.
"This is still an open investigation," he said. "I would hate to be inviting people to a high-quality resort hotel knowing it is on an unremediated toxic waste site."
After the public had its say, the village board voted 3-0 to approve Lake Flower Lodging's PUDD sketch plan, allowing the company to move into the final application stage, which will also include a public hearing.
Before the vote, however, Pelletieri cited a series of concerns. He said he was disappointed that an out-of-state company, Hospitality Builders of South Dakota, would build the hotel. He also wondered if the developers will seek a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan for the hotel.
"Under no circumstances will I vote in favor of this if they're going to get $2 million from the taxpayers, new zoning, a company out of town to build it and then ask us to reduce the taxes on them," Pelletieri said. His comments drew a smattering of applause from the audience.
Trustee Paul Van Cott recused himself from the bulk of Wednesday's meeting as he works for the state Adirondack Park Agency, which will also have to approve the project.
LaBarge wasn't there Wednesday night. His partner, Syracuse developer and seasonal Lake Placid resident Jacob Wright, wouldn't say whether the company would seek a PILOT for the hotel. Even though Hospitality Builders would be the general contractor, Wright said they would hire local subcontractors to do the work.
Wright said they continue to refine the design of the building and work with the village and state Department of Transportation on traffic and pedestrian safety issues. However, he said a smaller hotel "takes the project out of being feasible."