Parking is hot topic at Lake Placid budget hearing

LAKE PLACID – Even on a day where this village held a public hearing for its proposed 2016-17 budget, Lake Placid’s parking saga once again took center stage at a near-three-hour board meeting Monday.

Unlike a May 16 board meeting which more than 20 people attended, only a few were there Monday. Forty-four minutes in, Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall asked if there were any further questions about the village’s budget, and Anthony Dawson-Ellis, owner of the Main Street boutique hotel The Haus, asked the question many in the village are not relenting about.

“Is there a time horizon for a parking garage?” he asked.

The good news for Dawson-Ellis and the many in the village who are looking for a parking garage as soon as possible is that the village passed a resolution on Monday to establish a “capital-type reserve” for parking and – “ostensibly,” as Randall put it – a parking garage.

Know as the “Parking Reserve,” its purpose is to accumulate funds to “finance the cost of addressing the long-term parking needs of the community at large, including, but not limited to the Main Street corridor.”

The reserve will primarily be funded by the village’s metered parking spaces that saw a hike in its hourly rate from $1 to $2 in time for this summer. Revenue derived from the village’s annual parking permits, which saw a hike from $50 to $150, will not go toward the reserve.

In theory, the reserve will derive its funds from the increased revenues the increased meter rates are bringing in compared to last year. The amount of money raised by the meters from the 2015 calendar year will serve as a baseline for future years, including 2016. Revenue above that baseline will go to the reserve. At a minimum, 80 percent of the amount of money above the baseline must go toward the reserve, but the village board has the option of increasing that up to 100 percent. That percentage will be set annually by the village board as part of Lake Placid’s budgeting process.

But Dawson-Ellis and Ann O’Leary, the owner of a downtown building at 2475 Main St., pressed further regarding the garage and other parking changes. Dawson-Ellis said his hotel and vacation rental business serves 3,000 tourists a year, but he said its existence depends on parking.

“With the changes that are now in effect, the situation has become quite acute for me,” he said. “For my guests, if they have to venture more than a block or so to find parking options, I am going to be out of business, and I don’t want that to happen.”

That’s why Dawson-Ellis asked the board to consider creating a parking permit specifically for tourists lodging on Main Street. He elaborated on the multi-faceted way his establishment informs and reminds its guests of the village’s parking rules, including handing out a self-made parking map (which he said was in its 17th edition) and hanging reminder cards on vacationers’ doorknobs.

“I’ve got two calls right now from guests,” he said while looking down at his cellphone during the meeting. “I bet you they are about Monday night parking (rules).”

Dawson-Ellis said that he “could go the private route,” similar to when in the past he worked with another business on Main Street to provide parking for his clients, but he said he is “looking for a municipal embodiment that keeps me in business and keeps me wanting to stay the course.

“You tell somebody about a parking lot, they get their head around options,” he said. “You tell them there are some spots down the street that way, for some reason it’s just less appealing to them.”

Hotel owners Randall and Deputy Mayor Art Devlin, as well as village Attorney Janet Bliss asked Dawson-Ellis further about his concerns, what he sees daily in terms of Main Street parking volume, and his idea for these lodging permits.

The board did not propose or pass a permit for vacationers lodging on Main Street Monday, but the mayor did acknowledge how with establishments such as Smoke Signals on Main Street having upwards of 60 employees, new elements are exacerbating the parking problem.

O’Leary echoed some of Dawson-Ellis’ concerns at the meeting but was more pointed about her displeasure with the board’s long-term parking plan. Describing it as “a by-the-seat-of-the-pants thing,” she suggested not only a garage on Main Street but other options around the village as well.

“In my view, we should not be looking at one parking garage but a mile-and-a-half radius and see what’s available to us, whether it’s the horse show grounds, the ski jump parking lots and working out a broader plan,” she said. “It’s not about just the parking meters, one lot and who’s parking over here and there. It’s a bunch of larger issues.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Randall replied. “But people are telling us one thing,” he added. “They all want to be in the center of Main Street.”

“Well, it may come down to them not having a choice,” O’Leary said.

“That’s a good point,” Randall said. “I’d agree with that.

“Understand, our eyes are not closed,” he later added. “I think always when we create change, we have to be a bit patient.”