SARANAC LAKE - The biggest development project the village has seen in years will be the first project to be reviewed under a complicated and yet-to-be-used planning process.
Chris LaBarge wants the village to rezone the site of his proposed 90-room hotel on the shore of Lake Flower as a planned unit development district.
"This is our first crack at it, so we're going to be learning as we go," village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans told LaBarge at Wednesday night's village Planning Board meeting.
The village added language to its land-use code in 2011 that allows for PUDDs to be designated in any existing village zoning district, provided they meet certain guidelines.
If LaBarge had gone through the normal review process, which he initially planned to do, the project would have come before the village Zoning Board of Appeals, as he had requested variances for the building's height, parking plan and shoreline and road setbacks. Site plan approval from the planning board would also have been required.
The PUDD process basically takes the ZBA out of the process and hands the review of the project to the planning board and the village Board of Trustees.
"The idea is that the applicant can provide a proposed plan that might be more flexible than the underlying zoning may allow," Evans said. "It also allows the village, through the planning board and the village board, to ensure that the proposed design meets the goals of the village."
Asked before Wednesday's meeting if the PUDD process is a way to expedite the project through a less rigorous review, Evans said no.
"It's not less rigorous," he said. "There's actually more steps involved."
If the process is just as rigorous, then why is LaBarge pursuing it? LaBarge said Wednesday night that the complexity of the project and the approvals he will need from multiple agencies led him to ask for the rezoning.
"If he had received a variance from the zoning board, and all of a sudden (the state Department of Transportation) says you have to push that back or this back, now his variance request is void and he has to go back to the zoning board and ask for something different as the project evolves," Evans said. "With the PUDD, he's dealing with the village board and the planning board, but it's all part of one long process and he can go in a looping pattern as needed until it all gets sorted out."
The other reason LaBarge sought a PUDD is because the variances he would have needed "are pretty extensive compared to what the zoning allows," Evans said.
"This allows him to come to the village board and say, 'Hey, I need you to look at this whole thing in total,' and at the end of the day, they can make exceptions and look at the whole thing in one big picture rather than the narrow focus that the zoning board has."
Earlier this week, the village board agreed to consider a PUDD proposal for the hotel project. The process will formally begin when LaBarge submits a sketch plan to the planning board, which LaBarge said he hopes to do by its Sept. 18 meeting. The planning board will then review the sketch plan and make a recommendation to the village board, which will then make a preliminary decision on the project.
If the project moves forward, the next step is a formal PUDD application, where more details of the proposal are presented and reviewed by the planning board before it makes a final recommendation. That recommendation is then given to the village board, which will hold a public hearing before making a final decision on the proposal.