Since moving to Saranac Lake almost two decades ago, I've often explored the village with my cameras, looking for interesting angles and beautiful vistas. These explorations have been rewarded in the past, but I am concerned with the potential loss of some of our visual splendor with the planned construction of a new hotel along Lake Flower Avenue.
Anyone reading recent letters and commentaries in the Enterprise is aware of the project to which I refer. Three motels now occupy a space between Lake Flower Avenue and Lake Flower in the area where a developer would like to build a four-story-tall "destination hotel."
Those motels are arranged perpendicularly to the roadway, which now affords passersby the continuing opportunity to see the lake, with a few interruptions from the structures, which are primarily single-story. The hotel that is currently envisioned by the developer would be parallel to the highway and, at the proposed 60-foot height, would be almost as high as the Hotel Saranac. Its 300-foot length combined with the considerable height will create an unbroken visual blockade (perhaps not as bleak but very similar in height to the wall of the Dannemora correctional facility) which will effectively isolate the view behind it (Lake Flower) from the roadway.
Because of my concerns regarding the visual impact of such a structure, I visited the village offices and took a look at the most recent Comprehensive Plan, dated April 2013, that was prepared for the village by a committee which worked many months to articulate a community vision and planning objectives. Some highlights from the plan are directly relevant to any decision on the rezoning proposed for this lakeside hotel project.
The developer argues in his application to change the B-2 zoning to a planned unit development district that this rezoning would be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. He quotes the plan's "visions for the future": "Visitors to the village will find a genuine community, and a richly diversified destination during their stay: including abundant recreational pursuits, cultural enrichment, stimulating activities, and related lodging and fine dining." And he offers other selective quotes. What he fails to mention from the Comprehensive Plan are those statements and goals which relate to the village's most important natural asset: Lake Flower.
Statements in the Comprehensive Plan which the developer does not mention in his application include:
"It is clear that economic advancement and prosperity should not occur to the detriment of the community's character and small town qualities. ... The residents emphasized the unique quality of life that exists in the community and that this is rooted in a well-scaled and balanced built environment set within one of the most unique natural settings in the country." (p. 18)
"Views: The composite of the natural resources and the contributing influences of the built environment yield dramatic views from multiple vantage points within the Village. The natural topography in and surrounding the Village, prominently located lakes, ponds and rivers, the heritage and associated architecture of the buildings, and the presence and location of publicly owned parks, as well as parks owned by the Village Improvement Society, and right of ways are all elements contributing to local and regionally significant views enjoyed by residents and visitors alike." (p. 69)
Under Scenic Resources and View Corridors: "Virtually all of Saranac Lake retains high scenic values. These values exist from the roadsides, from the water, and from the mountain peaks themselves." (attachment p. 29)
"The road entrances from the east expose the visitors to exquisite views of Lake Flower, Mount Baker and the surrounding landscape." (attachment p. 29)
While I certainly have reservations about the hotel project as it is currently envisioned, I believe a new "destination hotel" in Saranac Lake could be a great addition to this community. Perhaps the hotel which is envisioned by the developer would be better suited to a different village location. I hope something good comes from meaningful discussions between the village and the developer - discussions which are based on a respect for our environment and are consistent with all the pertinent objectives in the village's Comprehensive Plan, which exist to benefit the entire community.
Barry Lobdell is a photographer who lives in Saranac Lake.