SARANAC LAKE - Village officials say they care what people who live outside the village think, but they won't give those comments as much weight as those from village residents.
The village is officially drawing a line between "insider" and "outsider" comments at its meetings, a move that comes as a controversial hotel project pending in the village continues to receive feedback from people near and far.
Mayor Clyde Rabideau opened Monday's village board meeting by reading a list of rules for public hearings and public comment periods that the village has drafted and will be put on the back of each meeting's agenda. He said the rules have been in effect over the last five years but only recently have been codified.
Under the rules, all speakers are required to give their names and addresses and say whether they are village residents or not, "so the village board may fully evaluate public comment.
"In respect for our neighbors, non-village residents may generally speak first when stipulated by the meeting chairperson," the rules state.
Other rules limit each comment to five minutes, prohibit speakers from assigning time to another person and require remarks to be addressed to the board as a whole.
The board then held a public hearing on an amended planned unit development district law. The village has two pending PUDD applications: one for the proposed 93-room Lake Flower Spa and Resort, and another for the American Management Association's plan to develop and sell off some of the buildings on its 63-acre campus. Rabideau first asked for comment on the PUDD law from people who don't live in the village.
Caperton Tissot, who lives just outside the village, said she was "a little intimidated" by the rules. She said people who live in the area, whether inside or outside the village, volunteer in the community, own village businesses and frequent the village's retail shops, restaurants and arts venues.
"This Capital of the Adirondacks, as you've called it, is our center, no matter on which side of the boundary line we reside," Tissot said. "Therefore, I hope you will take seriously our opinions based on their value, not based on the district from which they come."
Tissot went on to raise concerns about the village's PUDD law, as did the next speaker, Rosalie Fontana, who lives in Bloomingdale. She said she works in Saranac Lake and spends a lot of time here.
"I bank here, go to church here, go to restaurants here, walk my dog here," Fontana said. "I do really have a very strong attachment to this village. I do think of this as our town, my town."
Before closing the public hearing, Rabideau asked if there were any speakers who live inside the village, but no one spoke up.
Later in the meeting, Rabideau said he understands the rules may seem intimidating, but he said he and his fellow board members place "different value" on the comments made by village residents.
"I'm not your elected representative, and you're not my resident, Rabideau told Fontana. "You're a valued neighbor, and I respect your opinion. I'm going to listen to it and take the value of what you said and put it in the minutes."
Rabideau then compared it to what would happen if he went to Tupper Lake and spoke about issues in that community.
"I think there would be resentment," he said. "I don't think it would go over that well if I told them how to run their town. And Bloomingdale, too, and Lake Placid, even though I work there every day and I do shop there, I just don't think they would take my commentary as they would a resident, a real resident there. But Saranac Lake's unique. A lot of people feel, by their heartstrings, part of our community. We accept that. We respect that. That's why we listen to every word you say."
"And we invite you to move to the village," quipped Trustee Paul Van Cott.
Rabideau made similar comments on his Facebook page last week in a post he titled "The Chicken vs. The Pig." It was written in response to a letter Fontana had penned to the Enterprise about the proposed hotel. Rabideau noted that many people have shared their opinions about the project, but he said village residents "come first and foremost.
"You know, when you sit down to a breakfast of ham and eggs, you know that the chicken has concern for the meal ... but the pig? The pig is COMMITTED.
"Taxpaying village residents have more at stake in this decision ... and that is undeniable."