SARANAC LAKE - A foundation headed by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, who grew up in this village, is providing $125,000 to Homeward Bound Adirondacks to purchase Trudeau's grandfather's former home on Glenwood Drive for use as a respite center for veterans.
The currently vacant, eight-bedroom, three-story home at 124 Glenwood would be the first location for Homeward Bound, which was launched two years ago as Patriot Hills at Saranac Lake and has struggled to get off the ground, until now.
"The intent would be to have a small office and a small retreat center there to assist veterans and their families in a successful reintegration," Bob Ross, president of the Homeward Bound board of directors, said Monday.
Homeward Bound Adirondacks plans to buy this house on Glenwood Drive using funds provided by a foundation headed by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, whose grandfather previously owned the home.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
In order to move the project forward, Homeward Bound needs the village to rezone the property from residential to institutional use. The village Board of Trustees voted unanimously Monday to seek a recommendation on the request from the village Planning Board, but not before a group of Glenwood-area residents voiced concerns over the proposal.
Jon Vinograd described it as "spot rezoning." He said neighbors would agree to the change, provided certain conditions are attached to the rezoning such as restricting its use to veterans and their families and limiting Homeward Bound's ability to lease or sell the building to another organization. He also said Homeward Bound should pay all appropriate taxes on the property.
If those conditions can't be met, "we would not only be against the zoning change; we would legally bring suit in the appropriate court of jurisdiction," Vinograd said.
Phil Feinberg, who lives near the one-acre property, said the institutional zoning classification is too broad and would offer no protections for neighboring landowners.
"My wife and I feel strongly that no change should be made to the R1 zoning, period," said George Nagle, another Glenwood resident.
The only person who spoke in support of the project was the Rev. Eric Olsen, chaplain for the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, who's run some of Homeward Bound's programs. Olsen also lives on Glenwood Drive.
"There are people in the neighborhood who are very supportive of this," Olsen told the village board. "Saranac Lake is looking for economic development. We're looking for jobs; this is jobs to come. We're looking for visitors; this is visitors to come. How do we do that unless we take some bold steps?"
The concerns raised at Monday's meeting were similar to those raised by Glenwood and Kiwassa Road residents earlier this year about a request from St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers to rezone a parcel of its land for a 25-bed community residence for veterans suffering from substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. The village board ultimately approved the rezoning, but only after St. Joe's made a series of concessions to the neighbors, including relocating the building and creating a permanent buffer on the property.
Although Ross is president and CEO of St. Joseph's, he stressed that the rezoning that's proposed now is being sought by Homeward Bound. He said he doesn't believe the change would be spot zoning because it involves extending the L1 zone, which allows institutional use, by two lots. Ross also said the purpose is for the public good, "not for the benefit of an individual landowner."
Ross said Homeward Bound supporters, including Trudeau, met with residents of the neighborhood and the community about three weeks ago to discuss the project. He also said Homeward Bound has offered to pay the "equivalent to village taxes" on the property.
The house, known as the Jenks Cottage, was the home of Dr. Francis Berger Trudeau, the son of Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, who made Saranac Lake a center for tuberculosis research and curing, and his family. Ross said Garry Trudeau, a Homeward Bound board member, had a bit of "nostalgia" for his grandfather's home and recalled opening Christmas presents on the living room floor there when he was a boy.
More recently, Ross said the property was owned by mortgage lender Fannie Mae. It was auctioned, and the person who bought it planned to fix it up and sell it.
"When we found out who that was, Homeward Bound contacted him and said, 'This has been our desire. Would you allow us to purchase it from you?'" Ross said. "So he's getting some profit.'"
Ross said the $125,000 from Trudeau's foundation would go toward the purchase of the home, which the town of Harrietstown has assesed at $168,300 and was purchased in March by Thomas and Richard Trepanier of Mamaroneck for $68,250. Another $300,000 for renovations are planned through a combination of volunteer labor and hoped-for contributions, Ross said.
Homeward Bound would host retreats at the site for roughly 15 people. Guests would stay two to three nights in the house's bedrooms, and there would be meetings and workshops during the day. A small office would also be located in the house.
Ross said Homeward Bound has been picking up steam since it secured nonprofit status several months ago. It hosted a retreat two weeks ago at Ampersand Bay Resort for spouses of soldiers serving in Iraq. Ross also said a "significant" grant from another foundation will be announced in the coming weeks that will pay for a part-time employee and some program activities.
"There was an article (in the Enterprise) in April that asked where we were and what's happening," Ross said. "At that point, I indicated the spring and summer would be filled with some changes and some positive activity, and I think we will meet that expectation."
The rezoning request will be on the agenda of the June 20 Planning Board meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. in the village offices on the second floor of the Harrietstown Town Hall.