APA approves Lake Flower Resort

The proposed Lake Flower Resort in Saranac Lake is seen from the perspective of Lake Flower Avenue in this architectural drawing from the developers.

RAY BROOK — A proposed resort in Saranac Lake passed its final major government review hurdle Friday. Now all it faces is a lawsuit from another Saranac Lake hotel owner.

The state Adirondack Park Agency Board of Commissioners voted to approve a permit for the Lake Flower Resort and Spa, along with a variance for several features that fall within 50 feet of Lake Flower’s mean high water mark.

Lake Flower Resort managing partner Jacob Wright said his project should move forward quickly.

“We’re talking with architects and contractors, and we’re pushing forward,” Wright said after the board vote. “We still have some things to do with the village, but it’s all kind of small stuff.”

A lawsuit from the owners of the Hotel Saranac, which is being renovated downtown, could be an obstacle, but Wright didn’t say much about that.

The proposed Lake Flower Resort in Saranac Lake is seen in an aerial view in this architectural drawing from the developers.

“We’re focused on the positive,” he said. “We want to get to work and do something positive for the community and build a really good product.”

Leland C. “Lee” Pillsbury and Mark Pacala own the corporation behind the project, Saranac Lake Resort LLC. Pacala, who lives in Washington, D.C., and owns a vacation home in Lake George, is an investor focused on health care and senior housing, and an operating partner with Pamplona Capital Management, managing the firm’s health care portfolio. He was a board member of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy for 10 years. Pillsbury, of Annapolis, Maryland, has a long history in the hospitality industry and is chairman of Thayer Lodging Group, a hospitality investment company he co-founded in 1991 and sold in 2014. In January he was named managing director of Thayer Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on travel technology.

The corporation behind the Lake Flower Resort, Saranac Lake Resort LLC, is under contract to buy three motels at the north end of Lake Flower Avenue: the Adirondack Motel, the Lake Flower Inn and the Lakeside Motel. They would be demolished to make way for the four-story, 32,000-square-foot resort. Wright said there is no exact timeline for when demolition will begin.

The resort would feature 93 hotel rooms, two restaurants, a bar, conference/meeting facilities and an indoor-outdoor spa. Its fourth floor would rise to 66 feet at the ridgeline, with a 69-foot-tall turret at the building’s highest point. The property would have a 100-car pervious paved parking area, plus 10 off-site parking spaces at Nonna Fina restaurant on River Street.

The project is in a “hamlet” area where the APA prefers to cluster development in the Park, but the agency had a say in the matter because of construction within the 50-foot waterfront setback and because the height would be greater than 40 feet.

The resort has faced a barrage of pressure from some members of the community who say it is too large for the site, doesn’t have enough parking and will likely make traffic worse.

In addition to those concerns, the project needed the variance for several features that would be built within 50 feet of the shore of Lake Flower. However, APA staff recommended approval of the permit and variance, noting that the features requiring a variance add up to 4,073 square feet, less than the 7,100 square foot combined footprint of the existing structures and impervious surface area currently located in the shoreline setback, all of which will be removed.

Roedel Companies, owner of the Hotel Saranac, has filed a lawsuit against the village of Saranac Lake for allegedly violating several local laws in approving the Lake Flower Resort. Co-owner Fred Roedel III said he wasn’t surprised at the APA’s decision when informed of it Friday afternoon.

“I think there’s still a lot of steps that have to happen,” Roedel said. “Our issue isn’t with the APA. It’s that the village didn’t follow its own law, so that’s got to be decided. I guess the Lake Flower Resort can do what they want to do, and as far as I understand it, they can even proceed. So I’m not too terribly surprised.”

Roedel said the lawsuit is still before a judge and no decisions have been made, but he said that some parts of the suit may be heard in the next month or two.

The APA board voted 8-1 to approve the permit, with Chad Dawson casting the lone dissenting vote. APA Commissioner Barb Rice, a former Saranac Lake village board member who voted to approve the project in that role, recused herself from the APA vote. Commissioner Art Lussi, owner of a resort in Lake Placid, wasn’t at the meeting this week.

Village board meetings and previous public hearings on the project had been packed with supporters and detractors, but there was a conspicuous lack of a crowd at this month’s APA meeting. In fact, there were only two public comments at Friday’s meeting, and neither pertained to the resort project.

However, several commissioners, notably Dawson, raised pointed questions about the size of the project, the impacts snow and stormwater will create, and the economic projections provided by the developers.

In answer to Dawson’s questions, APA staff said the recommendation to approve the project was based on what was presented to them by the developers and that the APA isn’t in the business of deciding how large a resort should be.

Bob Stegemann, Region 5 director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the project is subject to a stormwater permit from the DEC, and that permit would provide oversight and enforcement capabilities if stormwater issues arise.