Chairwoman: First meeting without Evans ‘challenging’

SARANAC LAKE — Village Development Board Chairwoman Leslie Karasin said the absence of former Community Development Director Jeremy Evans was palpable at her board’s first meeting without him this week.

She also said she hopes the village Board of Trustees finds someone with planning background and expertise to fill the position. Evans resigned last month to become the new director of the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency.

The five-member, all-volunteer Development Board met Tuesday to consider the American Management Association’s proposal to subdivide three house lots on its 64-acre campus. Village Manager John Sweeney sat in on the meeting, but it was the first without Evans and the second without community development assistant Kelly Brunette, who left the village in April to work for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.

“It was certainly a challenging meeting, even in the context of it being a fairly simple project,” said Karasin, who’s chaired the Development Board, formerly the village Planning Board, since 2009. “It was the first subdivision under our new development code, and our first project without staff support.”

The board ultimately approved the project, but even something as simple as how to get the official notice of decision to the applicant was “kind of a missing piece,” Karasin said.

“The bigger picture is the board wasn’t working with any staff recommendation to go on or confidence that the village staff had evaluated the project from a professional standpoint,” she said. “We didn’t have any draft findings or staff recommendation or draft conditions.”

There are more complex projects coming up, Karasin noted, like the Dew Drop Inn renovation. Owner Calli Shelton said last month that she expect to deliver a full application to the village soon, potentially this month.

“There’s a project where the concept is totally sound but it’s such an important project for the village that we don’t want to miss anything,” Karasin said. “That’s a potential risk, without somebody with paid time putting their eyes and professional training on a project.”

As community development director, Evans was the village’s lead planner, grant writer, liaison to the Development Board and other boards, and in charge of the code enforcement office. Village officials have said they plan to separate his duties into at least two different jobs. The code enforcement role and the Development Board liaison role would go to a new code enforcement officer, who would work with current code enforcement officer Patrick Giblin.

The community development position’s primary task would be grant writing and grant administration, Mayor Clyde Rabideau said last week. There wouldn’t necessarily be a community planner component to the job, he said.

Karasin said Sweeney talked with the Developmpent Board about the plan going forward during the new business portion of Tuesday’s meeting. He reportedly talked about ways to provide the board with the necessary staff support and said he’s trying to secure permission from the village board to bring in an outside contractor like the LA Group, which has worked with the village on planning issues in the past, to provide some help.

Karasin said she’s written a memo to the village board outlining how she thinks it’s important to have someone with strong planning background to help lead the Development Board.

“And I’ve encouraged the other members to speak up individually,” she said. “One risk is that if we don’t have a high level of trust in the expertise of a person who’s looked at a project, there’s a risk we don’t feel confident in moving forward. If somebody doesn’t have adequate training, and either they make bad calls or don’t feel confident making any calls on a project, I don’t think would serve the village very well.”

In a Facebook post this week, however, Rabideau said the Development Board “is not meant to be led by the nose” by an urban planner.

“The Development Board is to consider projects before it according to the new code now in place and use their best judgment,” he wrote. “Otherwise, why have a Development Board? Why not just throw it into the lap of an Urban Planner just out of college? No other village or city in the Tri-Counties has an ‘Urban Planning Grad’ leading the way…though it would be a nice educational foundation for such a position.”

The mayor said it takes practical experience, people skills and consensus-building ability, along with adherence to the code in place, to make good projects happen.

“Follow the code, do the homework and make the right, reasoned decisions based upon the community will embodied in the existing code,” he wrote. “No one person is in charge. It is a community that determines its destiny.”