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Placid merchants worry about downtown project

People will get to comment at Jan. 27 public info session, mayor tells Business Association

Lake Placid's Main Street business district is seen Tuesday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

LAKE PLACID — In a change from last week, Mayor Craig Randall says community input on the village’s Main Street overhaul will be welcome at a public meeting later this month.

The meeting has been tentatively set for the evening of Monday, Jan. 27 at the Conference Center. A specific time has not yet been announced.

Planning for an $8 million overhaul of the Main Street streetscape and underlying infrastructure has been ongoing for years as village officials applied for grants to fund the project. The preliminary planning process is expected to wrap up by the end of this month. The first phase of the project is expected to go out to bid in March, with construction set to kick off in the spring and last for the next two years in the lead-up to the 2023 World University Games.

Business owners say they are worried shoppers will be scared away from a downtown construction zone for two summers, and also worried that the project might eliminate a few parking spaces downtown.

For the last few months, a Main Street task force with more than 15 members picked by the mayor has been reviewing plans and offering up suggestions.

Preliminary designs show what crosswalk green space may look like on Main Street, Lake Placid. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

Last week Randall said the upcoming Jan. 27 meeting would be a presentation of plans and not a public hearing, but at a meeting of the Lake Placid Business Association Tuesday, he said it was always the village’s intention to hear feedback from the community.

“There is absolutely going to be public input, no question about it,” he said. “Public input, contrary to what our newspaper says, will be accepted.”

At an Oct. 15, 2018, meeting of the village board, Randall said after the task force completed its work, a public hearing would be held to receive public comment. The members of that task force were announced around a year later, and the group held its first meeting this past October. With the village now under pressure to start construction and use state grant funding before it expires, the task force was initially given three months to review plans for Main Street improvements and offer feedback.

At a meeting of the task force last week, both Randall and village Trustee Peter Holderied said the anticipated public meeting this month would instead be a “public information session,” where a panel of people would present the plans for Main Street to the community before the project was put out to bid.

Three people present at that meeting confirmed to the Enterprise they also heard Randall say at the time the public information session would not be to hear public comments.

Randall said Tuesday that once the project is awarded to a contractor, “There is always the opportunity for change orders.” He underscored the importance of moving forward with the project now.

“We don’t think we’ll get another chance to change Main Street like this for another 50 years,” he said.

The village Board of Trustees has final say on the project designs, according to Randall. The state Department of Transportation also has to sign off.

Plans for Main Street

The village’s plans for Main Street include the installation of new water pipes. This is expected to improve service capacity, including the capacity for the village to provide water connections for buildings’ sprinkler systems. Not all of the buildings on Main Street currently have code-required sprinkler systems, according to Randall.

The plan also includes the installation of bioretention basins. These are typically plots of land set at a lower elevation, with layers of gravel, soil, mulch and vegetation. Randall has said the basins will help mitigate salt contamination in Mirror Lake by filtering stormwater runoff, and they are a requirement of some of the state grant funding the village has received for this project.

The sewer main under Main Street was replaced in 2018.

As the underlying water infrastructure of Main Street is updated, section by section, the village is planning to replace the existing sidewalks and add updated crosswalks with bump-outs. Those bump-outs may be bordered by some landscaping, with space for streetlights and parking meters, and possibly some seating.

“The crosswalks would provide safety for pedestrians where there isn’t safety today,” Randall said Tuesday.

Parking

At Tuesday’s meeting of the LPBA, business owners expressed two main points of concern, the first being removal of on-street parking spaces.

Not including spaces in parking lots, the latest draft of the Main Street plan last week appeared to call for a net loss of six on-street parking spaces, according to an informal analysis put together by Golden Arrow Sales Director and task force member Brandon Montag. But an analysis of the plan by members of the LPBA put the number of parking spaces lost at 10, between regular on-street and loading zone parking.

“The locals say, ‘I don’t go to Main Street because there’s no parking,'” said Margie Philo, owner of real estate firm Berkshire Hathaway Adirondack Premier Properties. “We can’t even get our locals to shop in our stores.”

Philo said as it stands now, though she pays for permit parking every year, her employees still have a difficult time finding parking.

Randall said the village is trying not to remove parking spaces unless it’s necessary.

The mayor has said there are ongoing discussions with the owners of the High Peaks Resort and Crowne Plaza about possible parking structures.

The latter collaboration has been floated in the past. In 2003, the Lussi family, who owns Crowne Plaza, proposed building a multi-use retail and housing complex with a parking garage in the large municipal lot across from the post office. The idea of building a parking garage on the upper municipal lot across from NBT Bank has also been discussed off and on for years. It was recently nixed again.

Separate from the Main Street project, the village is gearing up to commission a parking needs assessment to measure how much parking is needed. It will also evaluate how much of that parking the village can reasonably develop, according to Randall, who didn’t offer details on the scope of the parking study citing its preliminary nature.

The need for more downtown parking has been a point of discussion for more than 25 years.

Timeline

Business owners’ second point of contention with the Main Street project lies with its expected timeline.

Construction is expected to span two construction seasons, with completion by the end of 2021. While sections of the street are being worked on, traffic may be reduced to one lane.

“Something is going to happen, no matter where we land on this,” said Lori Fitzgerald, director of sales and marketing for the High Peaks Resort. “The bigger concern is that we’re talking about the major disruption of Main Street over two years. I question what we can do to help businesses sustain that.”

Fitzgerald said marketing will play an important role in showing visitors what the end result of the construction period will be, but “human nature is going to be avoiding” the area while it’s being worked on.

Philo asked that the village communicate a set construction schedule to business owners.

“I fear that in three years you’ll have half the business owners you have sitting here,” she said. “Two years of this kind of construction is going to be devastating. I think we have a right to have an opinion about that. The village can market all they want, but if it’s not pleasant to be on Main Street, (visitors are) not going to come to Main Street.”

Lake Placid Highway Superintendent Brad Hathaway said the village is discussing options with potential contractors to limit the construction during peak tourism times during the summer.

The village board’s next meeting is at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the North Elba Town Hall.