Wednesday night, we and other Glenwood residents attended a meeting of the Saranac Lake Planning Board, in which the village board referred a request to change the zoning of two Glenwood lots from K3 (single family residence only) to L1 (institutional).
We were impressed with the planning board members' dedication that allows them to sit through hours of mind-numbing detail and listen to citizens such as ourselves. That the planning board was not required to hold this public hearing, and that its recommendations to the town board are only advisory, only heightened our appreciation. Leslie Karasin, the chair, led us expertly.
In the face of strong opposition from Glenwood residents, the project sponsor withdrew the rezoning request. That is good, but it raises the question: Why was the request to rezone considered at all?
Village law requires zoning decisions to agree with the village's master plan. Adopted in 1988, the plan is still in effect. This plan defines Glenwood geographically and for that area says "permit single family residences only." A zoning change to institutional is contrary to the master plan, and illegal. Were such a change to take place, residents would be forced to sue to retain the character of their neighborhood.
Why was not the project sponsor told at the outset that his proposal isn't allowed in Glenwood?
It may be that zoning law is far more complicated than a plain reading of the master plan allows. If the master plan now in effect is not controlling village residents ought to be able to find out what is.
There is no question that members of the planning board and village trustees want what is best for Saranac Lake. When it comes to zoning, their actions must support the community values set forth in the master plan. Otherwise anything that appears well motivated will prevail, and property owners cannot expect that their neighborhoods will remain the same. The constraints of the master plan can be troublesome to well-informed, committed citizens who see opportunities contrary to the plan. Planners prize flexibility. The remedy is not to ignore the present plan but to develop a new one.
Work on a new master plan is now taking place. Glenwood residents and others should contribute to that process to ensure that the new plan contains wording sufficiently specific to continue the protection they now enjoy.