Village unanimously OKs acquiring museum land by eminent domain

Museum director contends meeting was held illegally

Adirondack Historical Association Executive Director David Kahn, foreground, listens as Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, far left, reads aloud from the village Board of Trustees’ determination and findings to enter into an official eminent domain proceeding to acquire the museum’s Main Street properties to construct a public parking garage.
(Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

Adirondack Historical Association Executive Director David Kahn, foreground, listens as Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, far left, reads aloud from the village Board of Trustees’ determination and findings to enter into an official eminent domain proceeding to acquire the museum’s Main Street properties to construct a public parking garage. (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

LAKE PLACID — This village’s Board of Trustees unanimously decided at a special Monday meeting to use eminent domain to acquire Main Street parcels from the Adirondack Historical Association in order to build a 250-space public parking garage. The association runs the Adirondack Experience museum in Blue Mountain Lake.

The meeting, which was attended by museum Executive Director David Kahn, lasted roughly a half-hour. Kahn spoke up at the beginning of the meeting and said the museum contends the meeting was held illegally. He was referring to the fact that the meeting came 91 days after the March 13 public hearing, a violation of state eminent domain procedure law, the museum contends.

“The AHA counsel questions under what other law or regulation the village’s public hearing is proceeding today in order to circumvent the 90 (day) period,” Kahn wrote in a prepared statement provided to this newspaper. “Section 206 of the Eminent Domain Procedure Law provides an exemption to the requirement to publish determination and findings ‘pursuant to other law or regulation.’

“What is that ‘law or regulation?'” Kahn posed in his statement.

After the meeting, the village’s legal counsel on the eminent domain matter, Patrick Seely of Clifton Park, said Kahn and the museum are mistaken.

Seated next to Seely, Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall read aloud the village’s determination and findings related to their eminent domain public hearing.

Randall also read aloud a State Environmental Quality Review Act resolution related to the village’s planned Main Street reconstruction project. The village board emphasized that they and their engineer, Ivan Zdrahal, reviewed potential environmental impacts on the area and its residents and determined the project will not result in a significant adverse environmental impact. Zdrahal has said the village would gain 80 to 90 parking spaces with the proposed garage.

The trustees unanimously approved the State Environmental Quality Review resolution immediately prior to their approval to enter into the eminent domain proceeding. The village’s planned parking garage, partially located at the museum’s adjacent parcels at 2476 and 2478 Main St., would be a part of the downtown reconstruction.

“This acquisition is necessary to address the amount and location of parking on Main Street in the village,” Randall said aloud at the meeting, reading from the board’s final determination.

“This is the best location because the village owns the property next door that will be included in the construction of the proposed parking garage,” he continued, “and (it) is located centrally to the businesses in the Main Street commercial corridor. And there is no significant environmental impact that could not be mitigated with reasonable measures.”

The board acknowledged that some people were against the parking garage project and/or the use of eminent domain to acquire the museum’s property. But board members also stated that no one who spoke up at the March 13 public hearing asserted that traffic and parking are not problems on Main Street, particularly in the summer and two or three other weeks during the year. The board also disclosed that 16 more written statements were provided through the end of the public hearing period, which concluded March 20. Randall also said none of the written statements asserted that traffic and parking are not problems on Main Street.

Kahn’s prepared statement stressed that the museum sought and still seeks “fair” treatment during the course of any proceedings related to the value of their Main Street property.

“The (museum’s) trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize value with respect to museum property,” Kahn wrote. “This is an obligation they cannot ignore.

“There has been strong public sentiment against the use of the eminent domain power,” he added. “There have been well reasoned arguments to the effect that no public benefit or purpose will be served by the placement of a parking garage with hundreds of cars going in and out in the middle of the village’s busiest street.

“The notice of public hearing for today seems to suggest a pre-ordained decision,” the executive director continued, “as if the public opposition to the project and the reasoning behind that opposition, as clearly reflected in the record, has been completely ignored. It is the (museum’s) contention that any determination should articulate the pros and cons of the parking garage proposal.”

Complicating matters further, the museum has threatened to sue the village and the town of North Elba in state Supreme Court to reverse the removal of its tax-exempt status by North Elba Assessor Todd Anthony. The museum believes Anthony was influenced by Randall and other village officials to not only remove the museum’s tax-exempt status but also this year to drop the assessed value of the 0.35-acre property from $1.18 million to $850,000. Randall has said the museum’s claims are “absolutely untrue.” Anthony also denies them.

Kahn referenced this situation once again to conclude his statement.

“Ideally (the museum) would rather arrive at a fair value of the property through a good-faith negotiation,” Kahn wrote, “or through a listing on the open market to the world, rather than have appraisers apply their at-times debatable science and estimate what the value of the property might be on a theoretical basis and then put the matter to a court for a decision. That’s not an arm’s- length method and property should not be bought and sold that way.”

For years, many residents have pressured the village to provide more parking downtown, and the museum has faced local friction throughout its Lake Placid experiment. It intended to build a satellite branch in 2007 when it bought the property from the Adirondack Church of the Nazarene. It demolished the church and manse, and planned to construct a glass, wood and stone building with a 64-foot timber tower. The state pledged $1 million, although that later fell through. Local review board members pushed back against the architecture, but the museum finally got its local permit after an arduous eight-month review.

Then in June 2008, the museum announced it had suspended the plan. The reasons it cited were the lengthy permitting processes, a neighbor’s lawsuit over that permit, increased construction costs, fundraising difficulties, a strained economy and the potential effects of high gas prices on museum visitation. Even now, the museum maintains that it is open to revisiting the idea of creating a Main Street visitor center.

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