Neighbors object to student housing

Say Northwood School ‘dorm’ doesn’t fit single-family zoning

LAKE PLACID — Two neighbors objected at Monday’s Lake Placid-North Elba Zoning Board of Appeals meeting to Northwood School’s planned use of a 4,500-square-foot building to house faculty and female students.

The school is seeking a certificate of occupancy to house one faculty member, her husband and seven to eight female students at the 4,500-square-foot Balsams Cottage on Norsnol Road, across Northwood Road from the private school.

Lawyers for the O’Leary and Prince families on Monday argued that the school should not be permitted to use the cottage as planned because the school’s planned use does not comply with the town’s zoning for a single-family residence. Legal counsel for the Prince family said students and faculty are “not the functional equivalent of a family,” adding that the house would serve as a transient-type living arrangement as no student would live there for more than two years.

“Fight about what you want to call it,” lawyer Richard Scherer said, “but this, for all intents and purposes, is a dorm.”

Northwood’s lawyer, James Brooks of Lake Placid, retorted that the school initially applied for a certificate of occupancy after a prior owner failed to secure one after making changes to the property. Brooks argued the certificate should be granted because Northwood’s planned use complies with the law.

“We are, as our papers show, ‘a group of people related or not related, living together as a common household with numbers of persons typical of a single family,'” Brooks said. “That’s the definition out of the code, and that’s what we comply with.”

Brooks also emphasized that the school believes there would be a parental guidance and responsibility at the cottage.

“We don’t believe we are in violation of any zoning code,” he said. “This use is not a use for a school. There is no education going on there. This is where they reside.”

The attorney for the Zoning Board of Appeals, Bill Kissell, said a decision on the matter wouldn’t be made until the end of February at the earliest. The board scheduled a site visit for 3 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9.

The Balsams Cottage currently includes six bedrooms, 4.5 bathrooms and a garage with an apartment on the second floor. The school also acquired a vacant lot adjoining the property.

The Balsams Cottage, listed at $1.49 million by Adirondack Premier Properties of Lake Placid, was a gift from an anonymous donor associated with the school.

Mavis Miller, the director of residential life and an art teacher at Northwood, attended the meeting and was asked questions by each lawyer. Miller and her husband currently live at a separate house on the Northwood campus, with female students in a similar situation to that proposed for Balsams Cottage.

Northwood Head of School Michael Maher also attended the meeting along with Assistant Headmaster Tom Broderick. Each stressed how the plan to use the Balsams as a residence for female students would help with an imbalance between boys and girls. Last year the school’s male-female ratio was 67-33 percent.

Maher and Broderick also spoke of how the school intends to construct a new dormitory on campus that would let the school address the enrollment imbalance without using the Balsams Cottage, though they were uncertain when enough money would be raised to construct the facility.

“These facilities, we are pinched at every corner,” Broderick said.


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