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Good project in need of better site

February 3, 2012
By Peter and Siobhan Crary

We own a home on Kiwassa Road in the village of Saranac Lake and are adjacent neighbors of St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center. We feel compelled to respond to the divisive editorial in the Enterprise on Jan. 30 ("Neighbors should let St. Joe's treat veterans").

Contrary to the views expressed in the editorial, we are not trying to block St. Joseph's plan to construct a large dormitory to house veterans, whom it will treat for substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. We respect the work St. Joseph's does to help recovering addicts. Many of our neighbors are veterans or have relatives and friends who have served or are serving in the military. We all agree that our brave veterans deserve the best care available. We hope the community will work with us to ensure that St. Joseph's is able to provide that care in an appropriate location.

We write to correct misinformation contained in the editorial and to provide additional information beyond that set forth by Mr. Ross in his Jan. 18 Guest Commentary. Among other things, they did not explain that St. Joseph's is asking the village to amend its land-use code. The proposed amendment would permit construction of the dormitory not on what most of us think of as St. Joseph's main campus but on a contiguous parcel it owns in our Kiwassa Road neighborhood. The parcel is zoned K2 residential, for single-family homes only. Neighbors received notice of St. Joseph's application only a short time before it was to come before the village planning board. Indeed, we understand that although St. Joseph's has been planning this project for about two years, it only decided in November or December 2011 to build on the parcel that requires a zoning change. A group of neighbors reached out to St. Joseph's and requested a meeting. At that meeting and at the public hearing, neighbors uniformly expressed support for the project and a desire to find a "win-win" solution. We are pleased that the village planning board adjourned its hearing on the application so that St. Joseph's can re-examine alternate, more appropriate sites. We hope that by publicly attempting to bully the neighborhood to back down, the Enterprise has not created a divisive atmosphere that will jeopardize that process.

In any event, we remain very concerned about the proposed destruction of the residential character of our quiet neighborhood. We urge everyone, including the editorial's author, to review St. Joseph's application, which is available from Jeremy Evans, village community development director. It includes "conceptual drawings," which are subject to change, that show proposed construction of a two-story dormitory to house 25 men plus staff on the property adjoining our home. The drawings illustrate that, no matter what the editorial's author may think, we do have much to worry about from this proposed zoning change and project. We were very surprised to learn that St. Joseph's planned to construct its two-story building just uphill from and within yards of our home and adjoining homes, and to provide access via a new driveway onto Kiwassa Road. The many letters submitted to the planning board and the speakers at the public hearing detailed why the rezoning should be denied. They explained how our residential neighborhood would be forever changed by light and noise pollution, added traffic, additional stormwater runoff and the presence of a large, two-story dormitory within yards of our homes. Contrary to the unsupported assertion in the editorial, these adverse changes will threaten our property values in a very real way.

Since 1988, the village's comprehensive master plan has been consistent in its clearly stated intent to protect the character of all the residential neighborhoods in the village. The plan has also consistently recognized the need to protect adjoining neighborhoods from this very type of incompatible encroachment by St. Joseph's. As things stand, St. Joseph's application is not consistent with the goals laid out in the plan. We and our neighbors purchased homes here because we value this protected residential area. We made what is probably the biggest investment any of us ever will make in the hope for a secure future here. We have asked the village to deny St. Joseph's application for a zoning change from K2 to L1 to fulfill the plan's objectives and to protect our investments, privacy and neighborhood character.

However, the rezoning application raises a matter of community-wide concern that goes far beyond our Kiwassa Road neighborhood. It has been suggested that the village, which is in the process of revising its comprehensive master plan, could change the plan to accommodate the requested zoning change. If the village now changes direction and amends the plan to treat our neighborhood differently for the sake of this one project, homeowners throughout the village will have no assurance that their neighborhoods will remain residential in the future.

In fact, this matter will serve as a precedent for other neighborhoods that coexist with local institutions, like North Country Community College, Trudeau Institute, Adirondack Medical Center and the American Management Association. If we are to have a village master plan that people can rely on, it is important that the plan not change to the detriment of the surrounding neighborhoods any time one of these institutions decides it is time to expand. Rather, village planners should address the broader question of how to accommodate such expansion while maintaining the plan's longstanding commitment to protecting residential homeowners.

We and our neighbors will continue to oppose the rezoning. However, we remain willing to work with St. Joseph's to ensure that this worthy project goes forward in an appropriate location that the entire community can support wholeheartedly. We want the project sited in a better location where it can serve veterans, create new jobs and operate compatibly with adjoining residential neighborhoods.



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