Pregnancy center approved in Saranac Lake
But not without pushback from reproductive rights advocate
SARANAC LAKE — “Sir, do you have a uterus?” Carolyn Koestner asked village Development Board member Elias “Allie” Pelletieri.
“You’ve got a big mouth,” he said.
Though it had one nay vote and some public pushback, the Development Board approved a site plan review for the Adirondack Pregnancy Center at 20 Academy St. during Tuesday night’s meeting.
The facility would be operated by a nonprofit group of the same name. Adirondack Pregnancy Center Treasurer Lisa Turbidy of Saranac Lake presented the project to the Development Board.
“Our mission is to provide men and women, who find themselves in crisis pregnancy, support for all things pregnancy,” she said. “That includes free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, parenting classes and a variety of counseling on options related to pregnancy.”
She said the facility would also make pastoral and biblical counseling available to visitors.
Turbidy said the facility will be funded by donations, mainly from area churches. However, she said multiple times that the group is not affiliated to any one church or denomination.
“We are not affiliated with any church. We are partnering with churches, and they are huge financial resources,” she said.
Turbidy said the group hosted a pastors luncheon recently, and representatives from the Adirondack Alliance and the High Peaks churches of Saranac Lake showed up. She said churches in other communities throughout the North Country were also represented. Saranac Lake Baptist Church Pastor Ryan Schneider was in the audience Tuesday night, supporting the center. Another pregnancy center board member, Craig Seaman, said the group is affiliated with Heartbeat International, a Christian association that supports crisis pregnancy centers.
The property is on the corner behind the Hotel Saranac. It’s owned by Charles Nicastro, so the Adirondack Pregnancy Center would rent from him. The group would use just the ground floor, which has in the past served as a hair salon and a construction office for the Hotel Saranac renovation. The top floor and basement are apartments. The center would have a reception area and rooms for conferences, ultrasound exams, counseling and storage.
The center would be classified as a “hospital,” which is allowed in that part of the village under the land-use code.
According to the group’s site plan application, there would be no on-site parking. Instead, the group suggests people use the large parking lot on Main Street next to the former Sears building. Development Board Chair Tom Boothe asked how many visitors the center expects. Turbidy said she doesn’t expect a large number of clients in the first year, maybe three to five a week.
Development Board member Donna Difara said she didn’t like that there wouldn’t be any parking.
Pelletieri was enthusiastic about the center.
“I think it’s a great project, and I’m all for it,” he said.
Koestner said she cares about reproductive rights and is concerned about the pregnancy center. She doesn’t work for Planned Parenthood but supported that organization, which also offers pregnancy services. Planned Parenthood offers abortion referrals, which many religious groups strongly oppose.
“Crisis pregnancy centers are notorious for targeting pregnant women and forcing them to have (children),” she said. “They’re not legally required to provide factually accurate information and are known for lying to women and coercing them into having children. I find it very convenient that in the 6-million acre (Adirondack) Park, they chose the one location that is a block away from one of our Planned Parenthoods (on St. Bernard Street), and I do not think that this center would serve our community well.”
Pelletieri called Koestner’s words an “assault on women’s reproductive rights.”
“Why they’re coming to Saranac Lake is because we are the capital of the Adirondacks. We have a hospital. We have colleges. We have a library. We are the capital. We are the center. People come here.
“I know those people (of the Adirondack Pregnancy Center), and they’re some of the best people in this village.”
Boothe said that all the members of the Development Board are aware of the social disagreements around crisis pregnancy centers. However, he recognized that the board’s job is to make sure properties respect the land-use code.
“Maybe that’s something for consideration in the future if this turns out to be a controversial use,” he said, “but right now, looking at the definition, looking at our code, it seems like we’ve got a fit.”
When it was time to decide on the site plan review, Difara was the only one who voted against the pregnancy center, and she did it on the basis that the facility won’t have any on-site parking.
However, after it was approved, Difara looked at Koestner and said, “We will win eventually.”