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SL village board candidates debate housing, tourism, local economy

Three candidates for two four-year seats on the Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees take part in a debate March 10 at the Harrietstown Town Hall. (Enterprise photos — Griffin Kelly)

SARANAC LAKE — The Enterprise held a public debate between the three candidates running for two village board trustee spots Tuesday night.

The incumbents are Democrats Rich Shapiro and Tom Catillaz, and Fred Balzac of the Green Party is challenging for one of the seats. The terms are for four years.

With two minutes for each question, the candidates discussed issues with housing, tourism, the economy and the environment. The debate was at the Harrietstown Town Hall, it lasted an hour and 18 members of the public attended.

Village elections are Wednesday, March 18, and you can cast your vote at the town hall from noon to 9 p.m.

Eighteen members of the public showed up for Tuesday night’s debate at the Harrietstown Town Hall. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

Village operations

— When asked what should change with village departments, all three candidates brought up code development and enforcement.

Shapiro said he wished the code was easier to understand.

“We’re familiar with (the code), but if you’ve got someone coming into the village who wants to do something and is not familiar, they run into difficulties,” he said.

Catillaz said the village code officers should host information sessions. Other than that, he said the departments work well as they are now.

Balzac said he fears the vacation rental issues in Lake Placid and North Elba could happen here, and the village land use code should be revised to help prevent those problems. He said there should be restrictions on waterfront development to help keep local waterways clean.

He also said he would like to make the process for getting on the ballot in the village easier to understand. He mentioned he had difficulties working with village Clerk Kareen Tyler when establishing his candidacy.

Shapiro rebutted Balzac about his concerns with ballots and the village clerk.

“She told you what she could tell you,” he said. “She told you she’s not allowed to give you further detailed information.

“Don’t complain about the village clerk not helping you when she’s doing all she’s legally allowed to help you with.”

Local economy

Saranac Lake has its fair share of successful businesses, but it’s also home to multiple empty storefronts.

Balzac said to help curb the problem, the village should diversify its business and focus less on tourism.

“I think it’s important that we look at all sectors of our economy,” he said.

He voiced support for businesses that work in the arts, renewable energies and locally raised foods. He also floated the idea of increasing parking in the downtown area.

Shapiro said tourism is the main piece of the village’s economy and it should be encouraged.

“The new restaurants that keeping popping up around town, tourism is what’s profitable,” he said. “Us locals can keep them going in the off-season, but they’re not really making as much money. It’s tourism that makes them work.”

Shapiro spoke to Blazac’s parking comment and said shorter time limits were instated at the behest of business owners.

“That way they have the turnover, and customers can come into their shops,” he said.

Catillaz agreed empty storefronts were a problem, but said it was an issue that can work itself out given enough time.

“Everybody has a few empty storefronts downtown,” he said. “In Lake Placid, they’ve got that problem right now. By summer, probably someone will be in those. Hopefully, we’ll be in the same bracket.”

Housing

Catillaz said the village is aware of the affordable housing and short-term rental problems in Lake Placid and the potential for the same to happen here. However, he said the village is in more of a data-gathering phase right now as opposed to planning.

“We’ve already started talking about it, and we don’t have a very good answer for it,” he said. “I don’t know anybody that does.

“I don’t know what to do about it, but I know we’re going to watch what other people are doing and form our own plan.”

Shapiro echoed Catillaz and said the village’s role now is to watch North Elba and Lake Placid go through their process before making any decisions.

“It’s easier to let them go through a lot of the learning experience, figure out what may or may not work there, and then we can take that and adapt it to the Saranac Lake situation, which is a little bit different.”

He also mentioned complaints he’s received from people in the village who have experienced problems with short-term rental guests.

“There’s noise till 2 in the morning,” he said. “There are 10 cars parked in the street where there’s not supposed to be parking.”

He said the village has identified 66 vacation rentals in Saranac Lake.

Balzac agreed vacation rentals should be monitored closely. In terms of affordable housing, he said developers building high-end properties in the village should be required to also build affordable units. He said the village should look into rent control policies similar to those in New York City.

Closing arguments

At the end of the debate, Balzac said he’s running to give people the option to choose a candidate from a different party.

“I think we need a diversity of views on the village board,” he said.

Catillaz said he’s readily available to answer questions from the public on issues with the village, and he enjoys being part of the board.

Shapiro said he’s right for the village board because he knows how to work with people who have different values and opinions.

“If you’re completely at odds with everybody else, you’re not going to get anything done,” Shapiro said. “I was able to get the town boards of Harrietstown, North Elba Tupper Lake and the village boards of Lake Placid, Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake to all pass resolutions in support of a climate strike last September.

“That’s not something you’re going to get by storming in.”